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Helping the Less Fortunate Help Themselves

Helping the Less Fortunate Help Themselves

By Benita Galandy, Manager March 6 2014
It was about five Decembers ago, during a cold spell much like the one we’ve been experiencing lately, that ‘Jack’ (I’ve altered his name to protect his privacy) first approached me for a space at the Métis Elders’ Caring Shelter in Grande Prairie, AB.

After a talk with the organization’s president, Angie Crerar, I told Jack he just wasn’t ready. It was hard, but for our shelter to work properly, we have to be very sure certain rules are respected.

A couple of weeks later, Jack came by looking cold and in fairly bad shape. The key thing was that, this time, he promised that if we let him stay here, Jack would do all he could to stop drinking and abusing drugs. He made a commitment, and we accepted him.

Fast-forward a half-decade, and Jack kept his word; as a long-time resident of the shelter, today he has a job, drives his own vehicle and participates fully in the Caring Shelter program.

The Caring Shelter has accomplished a lot with little support. About 50 percent of our funds come from Alberta Human Services’ homeless support programming, roughly 12 percent derives from corporate donations, raffles and other fundraising drives, and approximately 38 percent comes from room rents.

That’s not to say the residents don’t pitch in with a great deal of energy; without the option of indulging in in-door smoking, Jack and the other residents recently built from scratch a comfortable cabin that serves as a smoking house adjacent to the shelter. It’s become a feature of the shelter, and a social hub for many.

And it’s a symbol in some way of what men and women over the age of 55 are capable of when they manage to stabilize their living arrangements.

Opened in 2003 and operated with the help of the Government of Alberta, community organizations, businesses and many volunteers, our shelter has housed as many as 19 homeless men and women at one time. Especially in a cold season like this one, it’s a key part of the social fabric of Grande Prairie and the surrounding area.

Beyond being a place simply to get out of the weather, the Métis Elders’ Caring Shelter is a base where an older woman or man can straighten out his or her life; living at the shelter is organized around a few basic tenets.

For example, we strictly enforce a zero-tolerance policy against the use of alcohol and non-prescription drugs, and we similarly don’t tolerate prescription medication abuse of any kind.

We ensure residents eat together, participate in keeping the shelter clean – we have one of the cleanest residential shelters around – and take part in other daily chores. And residents must pay a reasonable rent that covers two excellent meals a day, as well as pay a small charge for laundry.

Corporate donations to our shelter are growing because donors see that we’re squeezing a lot of value out of each dollar that comes to us in support.

We’ll invite representatives from banks to visit and assist in organizing residents’ personal finances. We facilitate sessions with Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission officials regarding counseling, and Service Canada on pension information, and others on workforce topics.

Most of all, the shelter provides our residents with a real home, good nutrition, opportunities for fitness, dancing, barbeques, campfires, discussion circles and other cultural events.

After having worked at the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre for a dozen years, I came to realize there were a lot of aboriginal, Métis and other seniors who struggled with addiction, had become estranged from their families and just couldn’t manage to gain employment.

Many of them are like Jack, in need of a home base, some structure and just enough certainty in order for them to make the right moves to turn their lives around. And I’ve seen that it works. Some of our residents are now employed in a range of jobs from bus driver, city employee and Salvation Army store attendant, to Costco and Home Depot staff, Friendship Centre employee and oil rig worker.

They’ve taken some big steps. With the help of our government and corporate supporters, these residents have not just come out of the cold, but they’ve moved from simply surviving to achieving a real measure of independence and self-worth.

Like Jack, they’ve shown the Métis Elders’ Caring Shelter is an important part of the Grande Prairie community. That’s why we hope readers will consider giving the shelter your financial support.

Benita Galandy is Manager at the Métis Elders’ Caring Shelter in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The Caring Shelter relies on a range of government, volunteer and corporate support, including from companies like Northern Gateway Pipelines, a proud Caring Shelter donor.

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