As the cold sets in in Edmonton, some of the city’s homeless residents will soon have a warm place to sleep and three meals a day.
NiGiNan Housing Ventures has spent the last few years transforming the former Sands Inn and Suites at Fort Road and Yellowhead Trail into “Pimatisiwin,” a permanent housing centre, led by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.
NiGiNan CEO Keri Cardinal Schulte believes it’s a first-of-its-kind initiative in Canada.
“We’re so grateful that we get to redefine what a shelter space looks like, because Indigenous people everywhere, not only in Edmonton have been part of the shelter system, many of them for many years,” Cardinal Schulte told CTV News Edmonton on Monday.
“Being given the opportunity to redefine what a shelter space looks like for Indigenous people, by Indigenous people. That is super, super exciting.”
The former hotel space has been converted into 54 permanent supportive housing suites for people who have been deemed “hard to house,” and who have not had success finding housing elsewhere.
The former bar in the hotel is now a space for 34 Indigenous-led emergency shelter spaces for people off the streets or encampments who need help getting resources like ID or income support.
Construction is still underway in the former lobby to create an additional six enhanced care suites and more emergency shelter space. Cardinal Schulte anticipates the work will be done by March.
And on Tuesday, 53 emergency shelter spaces will open in trailers and four pallet homes that have been set up in the parking lot of the former hotel.
Camp trailers for emergency shelter at Pimatisiwin in north Edmonton. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton)
The program is being made possible by funding from the provincial government.
Cardinal Schulte says NiGiNan has permits to open the parking lot spaces until the spring.
The model for the emergency shelter spaces is different than anything else that’s currently operating in Edmonton, Cardinal Schulte says.
“We lead with love, we lead with kindness, we meet people where they’re at. And no matter what their issues are, we try to provide them with as much care and support as possible so that we can get them housed as quickly as possible.”
Many encampment residents have said they won’t go to shelter space because they’re forced back out onto the street every morning.
Cardinal Schulte says that won’t be the case at this facility.
“If they want to sleep all day, they can sleep all day, because they’ve been out in the cold for days. We provide three meals a day, all the time. And also people can continue to stay here as long as needed until we can get them housed somewhere else so they don’t end up back in encampments.”
The dining area at the Pimatisiwin emergency shelter. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton)
The space is opening as the city clears eight high-risk encampments, while simultaneously enacting its extreme cold weather response protocol, opening city facilities as warming centres during the day, an additional 50 emergency shelter spaces at the Al Rashid Mosque, and special extreme weather bus routes to help people access shelter spaces and supports from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.
“We’re so grateful that we get to open up this week,” Cardinal Schulte said.
“That’s the Creator watching out for us.”
She says the dip in temperatures will also be a test of the prototype pallet homes, which have been specially created to withstand Canadian winters.
A prototype pallet home to be used at the Indigenous-led Pimatisiwin facility in north Edmonton. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton)
“The pallet homes are going to be monitored, temperature inside, temperature outside.”
Despite the excitement of being able to open the new spaces, Cardinal Schulte knows they’ll only be able to help a fraction of Edmonton’s homeless population.
“There’s 3,000 people on the street and 60 per cent of them are Indigenous. So that means 1,800 people are in need of a loving, caring, supportive environment,” she said.
“We don’t have enough spaces to support everybody.”
But she vows to keep working to find homes for as many people as possible.
“We’ll continue to work on solving homelessness as much as possible and we will continue to look for options and whatever options are out there.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Miriam Valdes-Carletti
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