There may finally be a shelter to house homeless people during the cold, winter months. The question is, however, will the building be operational in time?

That’s the dilemma currently faced by the Meadow Lake Home Plate Shelter Coalition Corporation, a registered charitable organization that’s goal is to keep people off the streets and to potentially save lives at the same time.

“It all began with extensive meetings as a volunteer group until it got a point last November where we decided we should get organized and get something happening,” explained Bob Steeg, Home Plate board chair. “We had been speaking about the problem (of homelessness and the lack of an adequate shelter), but we didn’t really have anything concrete. So, we became organized, got a group together, had this group incorporated, received charitable status and plunged into it.”

Through the generosity of Kirt Prete, who donated the building adjacent to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 1st Street East (along with $20,000 in seed money), as well as local developer Al MacFarlane matching that in labour to modify the building and get it ready, Home Plate was able to achieve its goal of establishing a shelter. The group also secured a grant from the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan called Second Stage Housing.

“This grant allows people who have had credit problems, rent arrears or landlord hassles a second chance,” Steeg explained. “Meadow Lake Housing provides some units to rent and, at this point, we have two up and running each with three bedrooms per unit all with individual locks on the doors. We effectively pay the rent and collect it from the tenants. They’re homeless people essentially who now have a roof over their heads.”

As promising as this may be, the frustration of it all, Steeg added, is Home Plate still doesn’t have provisions for the “guy on the street.”

“Our fear is someone is going to freeze to death,” he said. “And, although we’re still meeting on this, it appears the Door of Hope will not continue being open throughout the night this winter. Last winter it was a stop gap measure.”

As for the aforementioned shelter, while Steeg is hopeful it will be up and running by October, he said Home Plate currently lacks the necessary amount of funds to operate the facility to its full extent.

“There are a lot of requirements when it comes to security, staffing and so forth,” he noted. “It’s really a heartbreak. We’ve had tremendous support from people in the community, whether it’s from the city, the Legion or a number of other organizations. However, it’s just not the adequate dollar amount to fund the operation, and that’s our dilemma. What’s frustrating is, we have talked to a substantial number of people but we just can’t gain traction. The client-base is just not getting supported. We’re really getting down to the crunch. In two-and-a-half months we require a substantial financial commitment to make things fly.”

Steeg went on to say public donations are commendable, but Home Plate needs a major entity to come forward with a substantial commitment to ensure the shelter can operate.

“We have visited North Battleford which has a tremendous facility backed by the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs while Prince Albert’s shelter is supported by the P.A. Grand Council and Saskatoon is backed by the Saskatoon Tribal Council, but we just can’t seem to get connected in our community,” he said. “There’s a real heartfelt recognition in our community something needs to be done, but nobody is stepping forward.”

Last winter, Steeg added, anywhere from 10-20 people per night would take advantage of the fact the Door of Hope was open all night long.

“We volunteered to do overnight shifts to provide them with security and protection,” he said. “The Second Stage Housing initiative has taken a portion of these people and helped them get back on their feet, but there still won’t be total coverage for the people on the street.”

In spite of the efforts Home Plate has made, Steeg’s number one fear of a homeless person freezing to death on the streets of Meadow Lake remains as strong as ever.

“There were two or three such deaths in Saskatoon last year and I believe, last year, a fellow froze to death in Loon Lake,” he said. “It’s a ticking time bomb. It’s just a matter of time before it happens here.”

by Phil Ambroziak