A new hot meal program served up hot soup and bannock for clients inside the Union Centre on Tuesday.
Clients were socially distanced with one sitting at each end of fold-up tables. Construction fences separated staff from clients and warm winter clothing was hung up on them and available for anyone who needed it. A staff member sat at the table in the entryway, writing down names and checking temperatures.
Those in need also received a paper bag full of banana bread, cookies, and bologna sandwiches.
Linea Lanoie has been passing meals out the front door of The Gate at Access Place for about four years, and earlier last week out the door at the Union Centre. The Gate is run through the Gateway-Covenant Church.
This week Lanoie was able to move the program indoors with the help of partner agencies River Bank Development Corporation and PAGC Urban Services. Lanoie is happy the people she serves can now enjoy their meals in a warm space.
“It’s hard to eat food when it’s 20 below. The food gets cold fast so a hot meal becomes a cold meal pretty quickly, and coffee becomes cold and they have nowhere to go to sit and eat,” Lanoie said.
River Bank manages funds in the Reaching Home program which is run by the federal government. In the past Reaching Home has provided around $600,000 to cities to help mitigate homelessness. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking a large toll on vulnerable communities, cities received an additional $1 million.
That money went towards a new cold weather shelter and helped the The Gate move indoors and provide more food to clients.
The Gate opens its doors at 10 a.m. and stays open until 11:30 a.m. After cleaning and sanitizing the dining space, bathrooms and other spaces, The Gate reopens from 2:00 pm until 3:30 p.m.
PAGC’s community cares kitchen provides a hot meal in the afternoon to clients.
River Bank manager Brian Howell said with winter and COVID-19, it’s important to keep everybody in good condition.
“A good meal makes a big difference,” Howell said.
Howell added partner agencies would like to have this program run annually in Prince Albert.
“With the additional COVID funding we’ve been able to develop kind of a suite of programs to cover peoples needs,” he said.
In addition to the cold weather shelter, federal funding has also been used to hire more program support workers who help people find housing, according to Howell.
Howell added that once the pandemic is over, people will still be suffering from homelessness and in need of services like the cold weather shelter and daily meal program. He’s hoping they can receive more funding to keep these services running in the future.
Both Laura Ballantyne and Bonnie Pekekoot who had meals on Tuesday said people experiencing homelessness need warmth along with other supports.
“To have a place to go warm up and have food, it’s a blessing,” Ballantyne said. She added that it’s hard to find a place to warm up in the winter and often when she does it’s later blocked off with fences.
“These guys are doing a good job. I never get a second bowl but I did today. I was hungry” Ballantyne laughed.
Ballantyne added with the ongoing pandemic, it’s even difficult to find a warm place to use the bathroom.
Pekekoot said people need a place where they can warm up, have a shower and clean themselves.
“We need a home,” she added that a lot of people experiencing homeless don’t know how to read or write.
“We learned to run from schools because of residential (schools). We learned to steal because they made us shelved in. A lot of people around here need homes. They need comfort, they need to be understood.”