Homelessness is a problem in all cities, even the smallest ones.

That’s why a group of like-minded organizations have banded together to form the Meadow Lake Homeless Coalition, a larger entity focused on efforts to provide for people in need and to ensure everyone has a roof over his or her head.

“The Meadow Lake Homelessness Coalition has been in place for a few years,” stated Rev. SunDo Hyun of Grace United Church. “The coalition consists of different organizations – the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the Meadow Lake Hospital, Mental Health and Addictions, Primary Health Services, and also the City of Meadow Lake, Meadow Lake Outreach Ministries, North West Friendship Centre, The Salvation Army, Grace United Church and more.”

And, in response to what has been one of the coldest winters in recent memory, the group has been actively pushing its goal of addressing homelessness through a newly discovered funding opportunity.

“Recently we had an online meeting where we learned there is a grant opportunity available from the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan,” Hyun continued. “The coalition is working on the application for funding to procure a building or place to provide a shelter or transitional housing for the homeless. The application is due this week, so we will be working hard to finalize it and have it submitted on time.”

This was echoed by Bill Sclater of the Door of Hope.

“Back in November, the MN-S approached Brent Stewart from the Saskatchewan Health Authority,” Sclater explained. “He was the one leading the coalition before, and there is funding available through the MN-S up to $2.9 million and another $700,000 for rural areas. That’s for the whole province. By the time we got the information and in a place to act on it, it was around the middle of December. On Jan. 4, we met at Grace United Church. There were about eight or nine of us, as well as some people online including a representative from the local homeless community.”

According to Hyun, while it’s more common to see people living on the streets in larger centres, homelessness remains a serious issue locally and one many people may not be fully aware of.

“I’m aware of 17-20 people who are living in dire conditions, most are staying at the Empire Motel,” he said. “Fortunately they have a place to stay, but the conditions are very poor.”

Among those who know all too well the plight some people in this community are experiencing is Ernest McPherson who recently opened the Empire Motel to his fellow homeless.

“Nepal, who owns the bar, asked me and my buddy, Ken, to watch out for the hotel while he is on holidays,” McPherson said. “When the cold snap hit, we couldn’t leave our friends out in the cold so we opened up all the rooms again. We felt bad for our friends and people out there who had nowhere to go.”

McPherson said people are happy to have a place to go, adding he is grateful for efforts by groups such as the coalition to also assist him and others down on their luck.

“We have been getting donations from the coalition,” he said. “I have also been going out to find blankets and whatever I can… I’m always here for anybody who needs help. The warm weather right now is a blessing, and it’s a blessing nobody froze to death when things were really cold.”

To also help in this area, the coalition has enacted its Winter Emergency Response Campaign, an initiative that encourages community members to donate blankets and clothing to those who require help.

“Winter coats, gloves – particularly men’s gloves – and anything that can keep people warm such as blankets, quilts, slacks, are greatly appreciated,” Sclater said.

Items can be dropped off at the Door of Hope, while Grace United also offers a pickup service.

“We have been working hard on the paperwork for the funding application, but it’s nice to also be able to provide practical support,” Hyun said.

As for the application, Sclater said much more information is still required to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

“There is still a lot of information that needs to be provided in terms of how this would work, the operation of it, if a building is built or what have you,” he said. “The homelessness issue locally is fluid from time-to-time… I am really looking forward to what comes out of this proposal. It’s important to get something done that will benefit the people in need.”

by Phil Ambroziak