Rotary House in Grande Prairie (Erica Fisher, mygrandeprairienow.com staff)
If it wants to keep its doors open full-time this summer, the Saint Lawrence Centre needs to raise another $25,000. As of the beginning of April, the homeless drop-in program will only be open Mondays and Thursdays.
Located inside Rotary House, the warming centre is meant to be a place where people can rest, have a shower, and connect with community resources during the day. Project Lead Jared Gossen says they were in a similar financial situation last summer, but more people have been using their services.
“Demand has been super high throughout the winter months, and we know that that need is still there. We have scaled back our operations right now, but we know we have to get back up to full-time quite quickly.”
The cold weather this winter has contributed to the increase, but Gossen largely attributes it to the city’s opioid crisis. When the shelter first opened in 2015, it saw around 30 people a day, which has grown to between 45 and 55.
“The impact of the opioid epidemic on Grande Prairie has meant that there’s more people in a really rough spot and more people really being hit hard by their chaotic drug use,” Gossen explains. “That takes its toll on our community, but also down at the centre as well.”
Because drug users may not be welcome in other public areas of the city, they are a key demographic of the Saint Lawrence Centre. It has three staff members, who have successfully reversed 19 opioid overdoses in the past seven months.
Gossen says they are banking on a proposed supervised consumption site to help improve the situation, but also plan to look at how they can improve their operations heading into next winter. In the meantime, he’s reaching out to Grande Prairie residents and businesses for help staying open.
“The colder it gets, the more flexible we see ourselves being, because we don’t want to see anybody out in the cold. That’s the heartbreaking part of where we find ourselves today.”
New Horizon Co-op recently stepped up with a $16,000 donation, reducing their initial crisis fundraising goal down from $41,000. Marketing Coordinator Holly Winsor says the company hopes others will be motivated to get involved as well.
“Being situated in the heart of Downtown we see a great need for this service. We are investing in the health of our community, and the health of those in need.”
The Saint Lawrence Centre operated on a $145,000 budget in 2017/2018, 83 per cent of which depends on community support. Donations can be made in person or online.