Organizations in Meadow Lake, Sask., get flood of calls from people looking to help homeless

Natanis Bundschuh, executive director of the Meadow Lake Outreach Ministries, says her organization has been receiving an influx of calls from people looking to help the homeless population in the northern Saskatchewan community. (Bonnie Allen/CBC - image credit)
Natanis Bundschuh, executive director of the Meadow Lake Outreach Ministries, says her organization has been receiving an influx of calls from people looking to help the homeless population in the northern Saskatchewan community. (Bonnie Allen/CBC - image credit)

Homelessness organizations in Meadow Lake, Sask., are receiving an outpouring of support from people near and far.

CBC News recently reported about Ernest McPherson, a homeless man living in the community 250 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, who patrols the streets trying to help other homeless people stay warm.

Since then, organizations in the community have been getting calls from people looking to donate.

"We've actually been getting calls from people, some of [whom] are not even located directly in our community," said Natanis Bundschuh, executive director of Meadow Lake Outreach Ministries, a non-profit Christian organization.

"They've just been touched by the story."

Some people call to help McPherson specifically. One person, Bundschuh said, offered to pay $500 so he could heat the trailer he purchased.

Others are just looking to help any way they can.

Bundschuh has been informing people about needed items, such as winter clothes and hot pads that can be slipped into a person's gloves or boots to warm their hands or feet.

Many people, especially the early callers, were wondering how to donate money, she said.

The outreach ministries has received an influx of donations, but Bundschuh was unsure exactly how many and how much money it had received.

Grace United Church, a member of a new housing coalition in Meadow Lake, has also been receiving donations that will be used toward helping those experiencing homelessness, said Rev. Sundo Hyun, the church's minister.

The church secretary is still calculating the amount coming in, but Hyun said he already knew of at least one individual donation of $1,000 that came in Friday morning.

"I've gotten several phone calls from people from Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, wanting to make donations," Hyun said.

The church has an emergency support fund that is often used to help pay for someone's food voucher or a night at a hotel, he said, so the money has been going into that pot.

Ultimately, however, the sudden influx may not provide what the community's homeless population really needs.

Meadow Lake, a city of about 5,300 people, does not have a homelessness shelter, or even a place for people to warm up from the cold during evenings and weekends.

"They'll literally just walk around all night," Bundschuh said.

"When we open in the morning, they'll come in, have something to eat, warm up and, very often, they'll just fall asleep at the tables … because they haven't slept all night."

Bundschuh previously told CBC News that some people seek refuge overnight in hotels, but they are sometimes turned away from the Social Services office.

The people experiencing homeless in the community also prefer not to go to RCMP, she said previously, because a jail cell may make them feel trapped or stir up past trauma.

Various stakeholders have formed Home Plate, a homeless coalition, to lobby for funding for a shelter.

The group is working to become incorporated as a non-profit so it can start receiving money, said Hyun, whose church is a coalition member.

In the meantime, the group is exploring using the church as an emergency shelter, Hyun said. But there are some roadblocks, such as municipal bylaws.

Bundschuh recently heard of a community that has a bus drive around the city as a mobile heating place, so she's considering how that could work in Meadow Lake.

She's also wondering how they could raise $1 million, which she said would be enough to meet the community's needs.