By Lethbridge Herald on January 10, 2024.
Steffanie Costigan – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Are the new temporary heating shelters being utilized in winter by individuals experiencing homelessness?
Recently, the provincial government and the City of Lethbridge announced 50 temporary heated shelters would be available to individuals’ experiencing homelessness from December 2023, until April 2024.
The province announced last month it was giving the City $1 million to fund the temporary shelter spaces.
In the announcement, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jason Nixon said the government’s priority is to keep the most vulnerable people safe during the winter season in partnership with the Blood Tribe.
“As we head into the winter months, one of our top priorities is making sure our most vulnerable people have a safe and warm place to stay and access to the supports they need. These additional shelter spaces in Lethbridge are an example of our strong partnership with the Blood Tribe Department of Health that will make a difference in a community with an urgent need,” said Nixon at the time.
However, questions have risen why there are still many homeless individuals sleeping out in the cold despite the shelter’s extra capacity.
The Herald reached out to the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre about use of the temporary heating shelters but nobody has responded to repeated requests for comment.
Streets Alive owner Ken Kissick, however, told The Herald on Wednesday that a couple of challenges prevent homeless individuals from utilizing the shelters and getting out of the cold.
“The drugs are a bigger role for people than their own life-preserving needs. And in most cases, the individual would have to give up the ability to use drugs to go into these places. And it’s an unfortunate decision that they’re making to remain outdoors in this kind of weather,” said Kissick.
Kissick encouraged residents who see anything concerning with homeless individuals to not turn a blind eye but rather seek assistance for them.
“There are a variety of reasons individuals will not access shelters. Everything from personal feelings through intimidation through drug use through a behaviour. There’s a wide range of reasons why. With that said, there are warming spaces available to the population. The big thing is knowing where.
“You’re talking about a group of people that aren’t exactly checking the news or seeing online for what’s available out there for them. So a lot of it is either word of mouth or lack of knowledge. You got a group of people that maybe won’t don’t even know where to go,” he said.
Kissick said homelessness and accessing shelters is “a very complicated and complex issue that doesn’t necessarily have just an easy ‘this reason is what it is, and we can solve it right now kind of thing.’
“It’s a layered and complex situation to deal with and there’s several different approaches on how to deal with it. And then there are several different organizations that are all working very hard to help with that.”
Kissick said people suffering from addiction have different thought processes than others.
“Addiction and homelessness can be as foreign to your average individual that hasn’t dealt with it, as living in a home is foreign to those individuals that have spent their life on the street. We have a typical thought process of, ‘hey, it’s cold, I’m going inside. It’s cold I need to get gloves.’
“The thought process when it comes to the individuals who might be addicted or having mental health concerns isn’t going to be that. There has to be a bit of an understanding of that being that their brains aren’t firing, telling them to get inside and get warm. Their brain’s firing, telling them whether or not they need to go get a fix,” said Kissick.
Organizations such as Streets Alive accept donations of warm clothes and blankets that go to homeless individuals during the winter season.
Kissick said personal choice, mental health and drugs are all playing factors.
“It comes down to personal choice, it comes down to drugs, it comes down to mental health. All of those things combined can lead to a number of different reasons why you may see someone out on the street rather than somewhere sheltered warm.”