Canmore went from an unseasonably warm Alberta fall to frigid temperatures in a week, and those sleeping rough don't yet have a place to escape the cold.
Now that funding is in place, the Homelessness Society of the Bow Valley needs to secure a space, hire and train staff, begin monitoring an emergency phone line and start accepting cold-weather donations.
The hope is to begin operating the emergency shelter in December. But support may be needed sooner.
"We were hoping that the weather would stay warmer a little bit longer so that we had a bit more time to get established," said Lisa Brown, who works for the Town of Canmore and is also the society's treasurer. "So we are trying to make a kind of an interim plan until we have operational staff in place."
Through her role as manager of community social development in the mountain town, Brown has already seen people come into the office seeking help. Staff make sure they have a cold-weather plan, know the signs of hypothermia and are dressed appropriately for the cold.
While there's no shelter, Brown did say there are places in extreme circumstances where folks can go to warm up — like the hospital.
Until the shelter is up and running, Brown said, the group will work with community partners like the RCMP to make sure people are supported through the cold.
"It's not ideal by any means."
The society is still in its infancy, has not yet reached a charitable status, and has not found a steady funding stream. The winter emergency shelter program was first piloted in 2021 and was based at the St. Michael Anglican Church in Canmore.
The pilot project made the case: Canmore needs an emergency space for people to live, especially in the cold months.
Homeless society sees year-round need
"There is, frankly, a year-round need," said the society's Neil Atkinson. "There's certainly a seasonal component that elevates that need or the severity of the need, but it is a year-round issue that people seek services."
This year for the first time, Brown said, they have secured money earlier than ever before. Through the Rural Development Network, the society received a cash injection not just for one winter season but two.
Funding for this winter comes in at $60,000, with $70,000 for the 2023-24 season, which gives the society members hope they can respond better to the community needs. The Town of Canmore acts as the fiscal agent for the funds.
Council agrees to rent space
Last week, council officials offered the Scout Hall as a potential new space to set up the shelter — as long as other activities in the building can go forward as planned.
But the space is tight and doesn't have shower facilities.
"I believe that this service addresses our most vulnerable," said Mayor Sean Krausert during the Nov. 1 council meeting. "This is what community priorities have to deal with, safe places for people to sleep."
Brown said the group is also closing in on a space that would serve it even better than Scout Hall, and is working to finalize the details as soon as possible.
2 years of funding means stability for the society
"Two years of visibility is such a relief and provides us time to kind of work on some of our own internal sustainability measures," said Atkinson.
The funding, he added, will give this group time to diversify its funding pools. Right now, it depends solely on grant funding to operate the shelter.
Last year, the shelter was full nearly every night — some nights with more people than the group had beds for. The society worked with community partners to ensure no one was turned away.
"Although we don't have a crystal ball for the coming year, we expect they will be quite high again," Atkinson said. "We don't see the catalysts happening in broader society that would allow us to feel confident in those numbers coming down significantly from last year."