Securing shelter for the homeless during the coldest nights of the year
Finding secure, reliable housing is a leading topic of discussion in the Bow Valley and it’s impacting newcomer, transient, and established populations. While in some cases overcrowding is the issue, in others it’s simply finding a place to stay, set down roots, work, and build a fulfilling life in our community. For more vulnerable individuals, surviving without any home becomes the only available option, sometimes for a few nights but often longer.
Previously called the REST Program, the Homelessness Society of the Bow Valley (HSBV) began in 2020 to address housing insecurity by providing shelter and support to people facing adversity or barriers to service. While recognizing that shelter is a fundamental need, the HSBV also acknowledges the importance of offering local wrap-around services to support both the physical and mental well-being of those who lack access to essential resources.
The HSBV currently operates a low-barrier shelter space during the coldest months of the year. Most recently, the shelter was open from December 15, 2022, to April 1, 2023, and located at the Canmore Scout Hall. In addition to an emergency shelter program, HSBV also operates an Outreach Program where workers provide basic supports including referrals to food and clothing resources, and access to temporary emergency supports such as short-term shelter as well as other support agencies such as Family Community Support Services (FCSS) and YWCA Banff.
Through partnerships, the HSBV has established a strong referral network with other area agencies. This enables them to connect individuals with the specific services they require beyond the scope of the HSBV’s own offerings and might include mental health services, healthcare providers, as well as temporary housing solutions. The HSBV accepts referrals from agencies throughout the Bow Valley including Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore, Exshaw, Mini Thni and Kananaskis.
“We are deeply grateful for the support from the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation. This partnership means we can continue and expand our services, maintain momentum, and remain a sustainable and much-needed resource for the community. We hear it from our clients on a daily basis: this funding helps change lives – that’s truly impactful,” said Jessica Klaric, Executive Director of HSBV.
While the need exists throughout the year, limited resources means the Society cannot keep the shelters open beyond the winter months. In a 2022 feedback discussion, program users said that if they were not accessing the HSBV outreach or shelter services, they would find accommodation by “couch surfing, accessing businesses open 24 hours, sleeping in stairwells, garbage bins or camping outside.”
Heading into January 2023, a donation of $60,000 from the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation meant HSBV was able to access additional resources to operate the shelter for the longest period yet. This donation of $60,000 has recently been re-committed for the upcoming 2024 winter. Without an ongoing, guaranteed source, financial support from the Foundation is essential for the Society’s sustainability.
“Homelessness exists everywhere, and the Bow Valley is no exception. Our support will help HSBV build and expand their much-needed services and support them in helping some of the most vulnerable people in our community throughout the year,” said Cathy Geisler, Executive Director of the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation. “They have done amazing work in just a few years and we hope our support will inspire others to help HSBV secure permanent resources for people facing difficult times in our community.”
Unfortunately, HSBV has not been able to secure a shelter space for next winter, which is a significant concern. With the shelter at or near capacity every night last winter, Klaric projects the demand for their services will only increase. Finding a permanent location is key to providing the essential supports the Society provides – meals, clothing, outreach services, and a warm place to stay.
“Increasing community awareness is key to reducing homelessness. Whether from an unexpected loss of staff accommodation or an inability to cover a rent increase, housing insecurity regularly impacts members of our community, landing them in often precarious, situations,” said Klaric. “Along with providing a safe place to stay, stigmatization is a major challenge for those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. We act as advocates, offering a voice for people who, for one reason or other, have found themselves without basic amenities.”
By focusing their energy on finding permanent shelter space, the HSBV aims to provide individuals experiencing homelessness with a stable and secure place to live while providing vital outreach services. Ensuring continuity of support allows vulnerable individuals to address the immediate causes of their homelessness as they work towards finding long-term, sustainable solutions.
Learn more about how the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation continues to support a more active, vibrant, and happy community.