Several of Estevan’s church groups are coming together to bring some of the Energy City’s less fortunate people in from the cold.
Starting in December and running until the end of February, St. Paul’s United Church auditorium will host the Warm Welcome project. The goal is to have a safe and warm place for people who would otherwise be sleeping in their cars or on the street.
Brenna Nickel, the minister at St. Paul’s, said the shelter will run from Thursday to Sunday in the beginning because they aren’t entirely sure what their resources will allow them to do.
“We know that most people who arrive in Estevan are coming on the weekends, hoping to start work on Monday, so that’s why we picked that time,” said Nickel.
She has been in Estevan for more than a year and noted that when people don’t have a place to stay, one of the first places they go is the church. Churches in the past would have a system where one church was on call every weekend to put people up in hotels.
“Now there just isn’t space in the hotels for people, and even if there is, it’s so expensive for the churches and the people,” Nickel said. “I think all the ministers in town have faced a very difficult time where you have to tell somebody, ‘no, we don’t have anything we can do for you.’ We just felt a need to address that.”
Lieutenant Brian Bobolo of Estevan’s Salvation Army noted they were also interested in starting some kind of shelter for people during the cold winter months.
Nickel noted many of Estevan’s homeless people are “invisible” homeless. Bobolo agreed the population of street involved people may go largely unnoticed by much of the city.
“People are generally aware there is a housing problem, but people aren’t always aware of the byproduct of all that. There are people who are falling through the cracks who missed the prosperity bus. This is a very expensive city to live in for a lot of people.
“It was just through casual conversation, we discovered that we all have the same concerns about people who are homeless here in Estevan,” said Bobolo about discussions with Nickel. “We both were searching for ways to help them out through the winter.”
Nickel wanted to organize an Out of the Cold program. Bobolo said the Salvation Army was looking to do the same, so they decided to work together to track down the resources they will need.
Nickel noted they are getting mattresses and bedding lined up right now and are meeting with the health inspector next week. They aren’t sure if they will be required to have brand new material or if they can accept things like used sheets.
The Salvation Army will provide coffee and any food their guests will need, including breakfast to be served in the morning with food out of the food bank.
Bobolo noted there is a real need to track who uses the service, so the Salvation Army will also serve as the intake point for guests to register.
“There’s a real need to track people. In some cases there are mental-health issues that are involved so they need to be processed appropriately and (may require) help getting there,” he added.
When people register, they will provide their name and the Salvation Army will give them all the information they will need like where to find St. Paul’s and what time they need to arrive and also depart in the morning.
“We keep tabs on them, because a lot of the time they need other assistance,” added Bobolo. “Help finding a job or seeing mental-health workers, so they need referrals to other social services agencies, which we are able to provide.”
Bobolo said the Salvation Army is tracking about 15 people in the city who are spending some of their nights on the street either without shelter or in their cars. For those who are homeless, or as Bobolo called “street involved,” he said they invite them to come into the Salvation Army during the day and have coffee as well as access to clothes and the food bank.
Volunteers will be required at the shelter to stay overnight, and their job will be to put out food and drinks for the guests and help clean up the following morning.
“Mostly, for us to have people who can be good listeners and just kind of be there for conversation, and just be a warm, hospitable presence,” Nickel said is what they are looking for from their volunteers.
An informational session will be held on Nov. 4 at St. Paul’s United Church beginning at 2 p.m. Anybody with questions or ideas is welcome to bring those with them.
Simply put, Nickel said their goal is to have fewer people sleeping outside, noting that it’s good for those people as well as the community.
“It’s a great way for cities to take care of those in need, and the City doesn’t need to be involved,” Bobolo added. “It’s easier to do this than to start up a whole shelter program that is really expensive and difficult to get off the ground.”