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Homeless memorial bench unveiled

A new bench to honour people who have lost their lives while experiencing homelessness has been unveiled in Grande Prairie. It can be found in Muskoseepi Park near the train trestle bridge south of 99th Avenue. Cultural navigator for the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre Natascha Okimaw says it’s a way to raise awareness of the homeless problem in the community.

“It’s also a chance for those who are street engaged to have something, kind of like an ownership; something that they are a part of and it gives them a chance to come and grieve.”

The bench was unveiled at the second annual Healing Hearts Homeless Memorial. Clinton Soto performed a traditional dance and song at the event, and says the bench is an appropriate gesture.

“When I was not having a home or anything, it was a place just to sit down and clear your head and see where you have to go. That’s salvation right there.”

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Two members of the homeless community have lost their lives in the past two months. Okimaw argues many people who live in the city still don’t understand its homelessness problem.

“There’s people in Grande Prairie that are still losing their lives while experiencing homelessness. Even though we’re a pretty good, wealthy community, there’s still those that are struggling daily and there’s still those that often go unnoticed until they die.”

A homeless count done in the city registered a total of 127 people sleeping on the street, in shelters, or in vehicles, as well as in transitional housing, treatment facilities, and corrections out of town. Okimaw says the best way for someone to help would be to donate to places like the Friendship Centre, Rotary House, Odyssey House and HIV North.

Lisa Simmons and Natascha Okimaw unveil a new bench dedicated to people who have lost their lives while homeless, Erica Fisher

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