Cold weather shelter beds set to save lives

Tyler Clarke
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Prince Albert YWCA CEO Donna Brooks, Prince Albert Police Service Chief Troy Cooper and Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Ron Michel is seen with one of 10 cots provided by the Canadian Red Cross to house intoxicated individuals in the basement of the YWCA Our House shelter during the frigid winter months. 

A new 10-bed cold weather shelter will save lives, Donna Brooks said assertively during a shelter expansion launch event on Friday.


“Absolutely, it will save people’s lives,” the Prince Albert YWCA CEO said.

“Last year we had four freezing deaths in Prince Albert. We don’t want to see that ever happen again. Everybody deserves a warm place to stay.”

The names Doris Ahenakew, John Dorion, James Benjamin Roberts and Angus Merasty should not be ones to be forgotten, Brooks said.

“They were a part of someone’s family,” she said. “I know our staff were extremely devastated by the loss of the three that they knew the closest.

“This is going to be a legacy,” Brooks said of the 10-bed cold weather shelter, which is being set up in the basement of the YWCA Our House shelter on 15th Street East in downtown Prince Albert.

“Their deaths have not gone for not. Maybe we couldn’t save those four, but we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that nobody, again, freezes to death in Prince Albert for a lack of services.”

The idea of opening up the YWCA Our House basement to intoxicated individuals to spend the night was first raised on Nov. 29, and within three weeks plans were finalized.

The 10-bed cold weather shelter will open on Monday, and will remain open every night from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. until April, Brooks said.

The beds will help fill a need in Prince Albert, where there are not enough shelter beds to meet the demand.

Although there are always accommodations available to prevent people from sleeping outside in the cold, Prince Albert Police Service Chief Troy Cooper said that all too often it comes down to spending the night in a jail cell.

“I can tell you that a jail cell is a pretty harsh and pretty unforgiving place to be when you simply have a health issue or you have poverty issues,” Cooper said, noting that 12 people spent the night in jail cells overnight on Thursday.

“I don’t know what the temperature was last night, but we were the option for those 12 people. We do this over 3,000 times a year, every year, and most of the time it’s the right place for the people to be, if they’re a danger to themselves or a danger to other people … but on other occasions, it’s not the place for these people to be … It’s harsh and expensive.”

Last year we had four freezing deaths in Prince Albert. We don’t want to see that ever happen again. Everybody deserves a warm place to stay Donna Brooks

Giving people another option with the 10 bed cold-weather shelter might prevent more people from sleeping outdoors, Social Services Minister June Draude said.

“Those four individuals that we lost last year can’t be replaced, but they can be remembered because we’ve worked together to provide what we hope is a solution,” she concluded.

“We’re breaking ground, here -- we’re doing something different. I think we’re kind of making history.”

With his first cousin one of last winter’s freezing victims, Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Ron Michel commended the cold weather shelter as a step in the right direction.

“We have to set up a permanent place where we can look at the things that are happening,” he said, urging a continued partnership between all the many agencies that made the cold weather shelter possible -- a sentiment Brooks backed up.

“It would be ideal to have it all year round because of the support they can receive, but for right now it’s the cold weather months that can keep people safe,” she said.

Although the 10 cold weather shelter spaces don’t cost anything by themselves, with 10 cots donated by the Canadian Red Cross, there are a number of expenses related to staffing the space, as well as feeding, bathing and blanketing those who spend the night.

The provincial government is contributing $40,000 toward the initiative -- funding that has been pulled from a handful of government agencies

The Northern Lights Community Development Corporation is contributing an additional $50,000 toward the program, as directed by the Prince Albert Grand Council.

Organizations: YWCA, Our House, Prince Albert Police Service Prince Albert Grand Council Social Services Northern Lights Community Development

Geographic location: Prince Albert YWCA CEO, 15th Street East

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