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Food bank sheltered 14 people during January cold stretch

Organization has seen steadily rising demand for services
St. Albert Food Bank and Community Village executive director Suzan Krecsy in 2019. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

During the weeklong stretch of extreme cold weather last month, when temperatures dipped below -40 C, the St. Albert Food Bank and Community Village managed to temporarily shelter 14 people, a number much higher than during cold snaps in previous years.

“It's always disappointing when we have to help that many people and that many people are struggling ... but I'm not surprised,” said Suzan Krecsy, the food bank's executive director. 

“It's certainly an increase from what we've had in previous years for sure, but all of our numbers right across the board for everything that we do here are up.”

Krecsy said even though 14 people were more than in years past, it wasn't pushing the limit of what the Community Village can provide during extreme weather events, as the non-profit has a cost-sharing agreement in place with other social service providers in the city.

“One year I had grant funding for that, so there's different ways we can get around that,” she said. "Because of the increase in the number of people coming in to use the food bank, we're banking for next year already because we'll see that number or more.”

Last year, Krecsy said, the St. Albert food bank saw a 31 per cent increase in service usage compared to 2022.

City spokesperson Lindsay Chambers said 12 of the 14 individuals who got shelter through the food bank were existing clients of either the food bank or the City's Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) agency. The majority were single adults or couples, although there was a child with a parent.

“Provincially, regionally, and locally individuals requiring services such as temporary shelter, or services like those offered through the St. Albert Food Bank and Community Village continue to increase,” Chambers said. “An upward trend for these services commenced during the pandemic and has continued.”

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of St. Albert was working with non-profit service and shelter provider the Mustard Seed to see if it might be possible to establish a small emergency shelter in St. Albert with provincial funding, but the province decided against it.

Krecsy said she is against the idea of building a standalone shelter in St. Albert, and said that she'd be concerned decision-makers and the public would consider the issued being solved once a shelter opened.

“I don't really support shelters because they don't work,” Krecsy said. “Once a shelter is built everybody says ‘Okay, one done, now we have to move on to another issue.”

“We actually asked our homeless folks what they would like, and they said no shelters.”

Instead, Krescy said the focus needs to be on increasing the affordable and supportive housing supply.

“We have gotten people into housing, we have supported them through our social work team here, but now it's really, really hard to get people into accommodations that they can afford because the rents have gone up,” she said. 

“In a perfect world, we would have enough housing to be able to put people in.”

Homeless population down from 2022

Despite seeing a record-breaking number of people needing emergency shelter last month, the Food Bank and Community Village's records show the number of homeless St. Albertans using the agency's services was actually down in 2023 compared to 2022.

In 2022, the food bank tracked 162 individuals experiencing homelessness who accessed services, and that number dropped to 133 last year.

Krecsy said while she doesn't know for sure why the number dropped. Some possibilities include not as many people in Edmonton coming to St. Albert and more St. Albertans going to Edmonton to access services, or that some have died.

“I don't think you can pin it on one single thing,” she said.

Coun. Natalie Joly said she knows many residents needing services like temporary shelter are told to get them in Edmonton, but it's a “frustrating” situation.

“I absolutely think the province should expand funding for services outside Edmonton,” Joly said. “People are always better supported in their home communities, and it's frustrating that St. Albert residents aren't being supported here.”

Coun. Mike Killick said he thinks St. Albert's approximate homeless population of 133 is likely under-reported.

“Whether it's 160 or 130, it's still a big number,” he said. "The thing is that people think St. Albert doesn't have a homeless or under-housed population, and unfortunately we do, it [just] tends to be a bit hidden.”

“It's certainly not as bad as Edmonton or some of the bigger cities, but nonetheless, we do have that situation and I'm not even going to call it a problem because that means people are a problem and they're not.”

Coun. Ken MacKay said he wasn't surprised to hear how many people accessed emergency shelter through the food bank.

“We're finding more and more individuals that need support,” he said. “We've known for some time that our food bank is heavily utilized and it's a very valuable resource ... because they do make connections and they bridge these individuals into other supports with the ultimate goal of moving into more permanent housing.”

“I'm pleased that we were able to find accommodations for these 14 and then I'm hoping that we were able to connect them with further with additional resources.”

Next month, the St. Albert Public Library is hosting a series of weekly “Poverty Talks” to “learn about poverty in St. Albert, the root causes, and how we can address poverty as a community.”

The first talk, entitled “Poverty 101 from a St. Albert lens,” is being organized by city staff, and is scheduled for Thursday, March 14, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

More information about the series, including how to register to attend, can be found on the Library's online events calender or by visiting a library a branch.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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