CANMORE – A new pilot project in Canmore will provide shelter from the cold for those who are struggling with finding affordable and available housing in the community.
The REST Program, which stands for resident emergency shelter temporary, will officially launch as a pilot on March 1 out of St. Michael's Anglican Church on Seventh Avenue, according to program manager Sean Krausert.
"We all know there are people sleeping in vehicles and sleeping rough during various times of the year, including in winter, and in winter it can be fatal," Krausert said. "This is about helping people have a safe place to sleep and to connect them with additional assistance available in the Bow Valley and nothing more."
The situation really hit home for Krausert last January on a morning that was -25 C when it looked like something had been left at the church doorway.
"I got closer, and I realized it was [a young couple] under a blanket ... with no place to go, who were huddled in a sheltered area outside trying to endure the cold until someone arrives," he said. "It kept haunting me of how frustrating it must have been for them to be freezing while only a pane of glass separated them from a warm empty building.
"Now we are opening up that warm empty building, thanks to a collaboration with the Homelessness to Housing Coalition and funding we received."
The $57,000 in funding from the Rural Development Network will allow St. Michael's to launch the pilot project for the remainder of the winter season. Krausert said the church would not be able to undertake this project without the funding and support from other organizations like the Town of Canmore, which is acting as the fiscal agent for the grand funding.
Fund development and community engagement manager Michelle Rhode said the pilot project grew out of conversations among those involved in the Bow Valley's Homelessness to Housing Coalition and a 2018 survey on the issue.
Out of 106 people who filled out the survey in Canmore and Banff, Rhode said 80 per cent reported having unstable housing.
"That is pretty high, and I think it was more than we realized," she said, adding unstable housing can look like couch surfing, living in the woods, or out of a vehicle. "There was a need identified and the discussion that came about from this was around what do we do."
In addition to providing shelter from the elements, the program is designed to also connect people with resources available in the community to find housing.
Krausert said the REST Program will be dedicated to helping Canmore residents that are struggling, for one reason or another, to find housing in the community.
"Our guests are people who are already here," he said. "They are already sleeping in their vehicles, or sleeping rough, or couch surfing – although that has been limited by COVID now.
"They may be going through a rough patch, or may have suffered some kind of traumatic event. This gives them the opportunity to be safe and hopefully we will be able to connect them through the various helping agencies in the Bow Valley to accommodation that meets their needs."
REST is not a volunteer run program, noted Krausert. He said all staff will be paid, nobody will work alone and the shelter will open each night at 9 p.m. If nobody is in need of shelter, it will close at 11 p.m., but staff will still get paid for their full shift.
If the shelter is in use, it will operate until 7 a.m. the next morning. There is space in the church to accommodate five guests on cots, following COVID guidelines for shelters in Alberta. It will be barrier-free and all genders, sexual orientations, ages and religious backgrounds are welcome.
"Once the pilot project is done, we will be completely reviewing every aspect, including input from neighbours," Krausert said, adding they have already reached out to those in the neighbourhood to discuss the project. "Together with the neighbours, we will create a good neighbour policy to address concerns and who to contact if questions or issues arise."
Rhode said for many, homelessness in Canmore is a hidden problem, but the REST Program will help to evaluate the needs in the community and address them.
"[Homelessness] is not indicative of an inclusive community, and I feel this is moving now in that direction and support everyone in the community," she said.
Guests of the program will also have rights and Rhode said that is part of the culture they are trying to create – an inclusive and welcoming space.
To contact the REST Program, email [email protected] or call 403-707-7473. Go to the REST Program Facebook page for more information.