St. Paul's United Church, the Estevan Ministerial Association and other partners are teaming up this winter to address one of Estevan's growing issues: the number of homeless people in the community.
A shelter named Warm Welcome will be set up in St. Paul's auditorium from Thursday to Sunday nights in December, January and February, starting on Saturday, December 1.
Nickel said that they decided to open a shelter because people have come to St. Paul's and other churches in the community for information on accommodations, but the churches haven't been able to accommodate them or direct them anywhere, due to the housing shortage. Hotels are often full, or they can be too expensive.
“If you come here with a limited amount of savings, you don't want to be spending $150 per night on a hotel,” said Nickel. “And then the next-nearest shelter would be in Regina.”
St. Paul's has been praying for ways they can be more active in the community, and they believe a shelter in the auditorium is a service they can offer.
Estevan Ministerial Association chair Marian Huber said the ministerial association has recognized the housing shortage for a number of years, and they have sought different solutions.
“A lot of like-minded people have come together to say 'We need to do something about this,'” said Huber. “There are folks who, over the summer, were sleeping in their cars.”
Sleeping in a vehicle is one thing in the summer, Huber said, but it becomes a real issue once temperatures plummet below zero.
“My experience in Edmonton is that once it gets cold, you can suffer a few nights when it's -5 C or -10 C, but once you start getting into the -25 C or the -30 C, you cannot,” said Huber.
People in Ontario have come to Estevan looking for work because they have heard there are jobs in the city, Nickel said, but they haven't heard about Estevan's housing shortage.
Support has been positive for Warm Welcome, they said. The Estevan Salvation Army is on-board as the intake point. The Estevan United Way has made Warm Welcome a community impact project, and they have pledged $5,000 to the program.
Businesses have also been supportive.
Shelter users will report to the Estevan Salvation Army to register before they go to St. Paul's auditorium. The intake point will help Warm Welcome keep track of the shelter's users, and it will keep the shelter on a first-come, first-serve basis each night.
Tim Horton's will supply coffee and donuts for the shelter, and the Salvation Army will provide breakfast using food from its food bank. St. Joseph's Hospital is going to supply some mattresses, and showers will be available at the Husky House for shelter users.
A hospitality coordinator, Carol Knievel, and volunteers will be at the auditorium throughout the night.
“One of the things that isn't financial or on paper, but that we're hoping for, is the hospitality and the conversation that volunteers will be able to provide,” said Nickel. “Sometimes that's what people need.”
“There'll be that shoulder to listen,” added Huber. “We're not a counselling service, but definitely we're there to support and to hear them.”
Details are still being finalized on the time when people can report, and when doors would be locked for the night.
Nickel and Huber expect that they will be able to accommodate up to 20 people on a nightly basis.
“It's based on how many people we think we can get to volunteer every night, and how many the Salvation Army can give to us, and the money that we have to purchase mattresses and linens and things like that,” Nickel said.
Some people want to know why the shelter won't be open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That is a concern for people involved with Warm Welcome, Nickel said. They chose Thursdays to Sundays because a lot of people who come to Estevan for work arrive on the weekends.
“We feel that if we can get one person a night inside, then that's better than somebody being outside for that night,” said Nickel.
The months of December, January and February were selected because those are typically the coldest months of the year.
Health and safety issues will be addressed, Nickel said. They have already informed the Estevan Police Service about the program, and they will be meeting with the health inspector.
Religious beliefs won't be promoted at the shelter, despite the involvement of local churches. They want to make Warm Welcome as comfortable as possible for both users and volunteers.
Volunteers are still needed. Nickel said ideally they would have two men and two women helping out during each of the two shifts: 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., and 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. A volunteer training and information session will be happening on Sunday, November 4 at the church, beginning at 2 p.m.