Wetaskiwin temporary shelter to close ahead of schedule leaving some in a lurch

A shelter many expected to remain open until the end of June in Wetaskiwin, Alta., will close a month early.

The temporary Wetaskiwin Emergency Shelter and warming site, operated by The Mustard Seed, has provided meals, outreach services, and medical support to the homeless throughout the pandemic. By Sunday, that aid will come to an end.

"The shelter was funded by COVID-19 dollars, and we have been able to stretch it further but due to extra costs incurred and other budgetary changes we had to make the decision to close early," said Tristyn Wilm, a spokesperson for The Mustard Seed.

"We also had issues with staff retention due to giving employees working notice so they could find other jobs," Wilm added.

"We used to provide three meals a day," said Terri Potts, a former shelter employee. "Now, (it's) down to one meal a day."

Potts said the shelter operated 24-hours a day until around two weeks ago. Now the shelter is open overnight only, from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.

"It's really quite devastating to see that our folk are going to have nothing after the weekend," Potts added.

Tammy Rowan has been homeless for almost 10 years and came to rely on the shelter and its services.

"They kept us well," Rowan told CTV News Edmonton. "Very well. Not only me but a whole bunch of us."

"They can't close, they can't," Rowan added. "They can't just leave us out in the cold."

Potts recognizes that the shelter was always temporary in nature, but the need is not going anywhere.

"The community as a whole has to acknowledge that we have struggles in Wetaskiwin," Potts said. "And they've been here for years. They've been here for decades. The needs haven't changed, they've actually grown.

"The needs have grown to be so extensive that we need a whole network of teams to get together to actually help our folks here," Potts added.

When CTV News Edmonton reached out for comment, the City of Wetaskiwin said the province should be leading efforts to help keep the shelter operating.

"While Wetaskiwin city council has been particularly vocal about a need for an emergency shelter — as well as the provision of mental health supports, addiction and recovery services, and transitional housing in Wetaskiwin — these fall under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the provincial government," the city said in a statement.

Jason Luan, community and social services minister, said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton that the province provided $880,000 to support the shelter.

"While this funding has now been used up, Wetaskiwin Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has a surplus of about $360,000, which the city has the ability to redirect to the shelter to ensure it stays open through the summer," Luan said.

"We have been actively working with the city and FCSS to enable them to use this surplus," he added. "We are committed to working with them and our homeless-serving partners in Wetaskiwin to find a long-term solution for shelter services in Wetaskiwin.

"Those conversations are ongoing and we will share more details as they become available."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson