Fort McMurray non-profit agencies receive $5M toward programs to help homeless

·3 min read
The Centre of Hope in Fort McMurray is one of several organizations that received funding for housing programs in Wood Buffalo. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)
The Centre of Hope in Fort McMurray is one of several organizations that received funding for housing programs in Wood Buffalo. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)

Fort McMurray non-profit agencies that help the region's homeless population are getting $5 million in provincial and federal funding.

But the groups say they still face challenges in finding places for people to be housed.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo distributed the funding between four organizations that offer about a dozen different programs aimed at providing safe housing and preventing homelessness.

The Centre of Hope and the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society received the largest allocations, approximately $1.8 million each. Other organizations that received funding were The Salvation Army and the YMCA.

Since the municipality approved its Community Plan on Homelessness in 2009, more than 1,100 people have been helped, said Dianne Bergey, director of community and protective services.

As of April, there were 159 people in housing programs.

Because of COVID-19, there was almost an extra $1 million from the federal government for homelessness projects, which allowed some organizations to get more funding than they requested, Bergey said.

But the non-profits said they were still facing challenges, particularly when it comes to available social housing.

Bergey said Wood Buffalo Housing, which has a high vacancy rate, should partner with the non-profits.

"That's a partnership that we need to open up," said Bergey.

Wood Buffalo Housing is a not-for-profit that provides housing for people in the region. In March, the organization went to the municipality for an injection of money to cover mortgage debt and interest.

'So much more our community can do'

Edna Olsen-Moman, executive director of the Salvation Army in Fort McMurray, said her organization hosts the only diversion program that works to keep people out of shelters, and the non-profits in town work together to make sure services aren't duplicated.

"Our program is so desperately needed within our community," said Olsen-Moman. "Although the budget seems to be very healthy, we could use more. There is so much more that our community can do for our homeless population."

Coun. Jane Stroud asked Olsen-Moman if they were able to access any of the units for their programming through Wood Buffalo Housing, which she said has a vacancy rate of around 20 per cent.

Olsen-Moman said no.

In 2008, 549 people in Fort McMurray identified as homeless. By 2016, that number had dropped to 114 people, according to a study by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

In 2018, the most recent year of that study, it had climbed slightly to 200.

Coun. Keith McGrath said he's noticed the homeless population spreading throughout all the neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray.

"I see more people being homeless in our community," said McGrath. "Our homeless problem is growing."

He would like to see more funding from the province for emergency and long-term housing.

Linda Thompson-Brown, program manager for the YMCA Northern Alberta housing first program, said its program has capacity for 45 participants.

Forty-two are currently being housed, she said, adding that one of the biggest bottlenecks is access to social housing.

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