Warm bed, full belly

Joy Smith, Reporter

A warm place to sleep and a hot meal are two things most of us take for granted but for others a safe place to rest and a full belly aren’t always something they can count on every day. Members of the John Howard Society Cold Lake (JHSCL) are doing what they can to see that as many people as possible get to enjoy these basic needs.

Initially, there was no mandate for the JHSCL to establish a Community Mat program in this area but it soon became evident that there was a requirement for that service in Cold Lake. The economic downturn in Alberta along with complications of living life in a world that now includes COVID-19 has left many with no place to go when the weather gets dangerously cold. Members of the JHSCL identified the need and quickly organized a subcommittee who have been hard at work getting Cold Lake’s Community Mat program off the ground. Most Community Mat programs in Canada are run by local organizations that provide individuals who are homeless or have no immediate housing options with overnight emergency shelter and connections to community resources.

The first step was to find a building, get the doors open and help get people who are sleeping outside off the streets. Finding the right building was a challenge because the facility needed to be accessible to patrons with mobility issues plus it needed to be located close to where the vulnerable population of the community would congregate. After looking at several places a decision was made to lease a property near downtown Cold Lake which previously housed the Outreach Centre.

The JHSCL Mat program will be very basic to begin with; after an intake process guests are provided with a mat, a blanket, a meal and a warm, safe place to sleep. The committee is hoping to open the facility in early January and will be able to assist up to 10 men per night. Once the program is up and running the next step will be to add programming that assist people to transition out of the vulnerable position they find themselves in.

Volunteer opportunities are available with this project; volunteers will be asked to ensure a safe and dignified stay for guests, greeting guests post intake evaluation, assisting guests with getting settled, meal prep, generally assist guests with what they need and monitoring the facility. Volunteers will be assisted by paid staff and the commitment is twice a month.

The John Howard Society of Alberta is a non-profit agency concerned with the problem of crime and its prevention. The organization takes its name and spirit from the 18th century humanitarian John Howard, whose name has become a symbol of humane consideration for prisoners. It was incorporated in 1949, and today the organization consists of seven separately incorporated districts along with the Provincial Office. Through involvement with the John Howard Society, as members or volunteers, people in the community play an active role in the criminal justice process by providing programs for offenders and their families, ex-offenders, young persons and the public.

Major Greg Hardy, a JHSCL board member, feels the Community Mat Program has far reaching potential, “This is a chance to bring back a bit of humanity to people who are living right next to you. It’s a chance to help somebody transition to a place that’s a bit more productive, a bit more stable and safe… I would hope that if I ever fell on hard times and needed somebody there to help pick me up, I hope that help would be there for me.”

If you are interested in volunteering with the Community Mat program you can send an email to cljhsvolunteercoord@gmail.com or check out their Facebook page.