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Home News La Ronge winter shelter to reopen at downtown location

La Ronge winter shelter to reopen at downtown location

La Ronge winter shelter to reopen at downtown location
Kikinahk Friendship Centre executive director Ron Woytowich with Scattered Site program director Jackie Ballantyne at the downtown location in La Ronge. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock

Funding approvals for an overnight shelter in the northern Saskatchewan Town of La Ronge means the community’s most vulnerable won’t be left out in the cold this winter. 

People without housing in the community will be able to stay at the downtown Scattered Site location on La Ronge Avenue, where they will also have access to food and showers. 

Kikinahk Friendship Centre executive director Ron Woytowich, who runs the shelter alongside an outreach program, said he’s relieved the funds came through. He said the shelter will open by November 15, earlier if possible as temperatures drop. 

“Before we started the shelter at least one and sometimes two people froze to death in La Ronge every winter,” Woytowich said. 

“Once we started the shelter nobody froze to death and nobody died.”

Woytowich said La Ronge is a hub in northern Saskatchewan ‘just like a city’ where people can access healthcare and other essentials — so having a winter shelter is especially important.

The downtown location also makes it easier for clients to access essentials like medication. 

“Doctors can walk over from the medical clinic to the shelter to work with the clients. It’s really handy in a lot of ways,” Woytowich said. 

“We’re the only ones with a medical clinic. There’s the hospital and the drugstores and the liquor outlets. It’s natural that they would come here, and it’s natural that those who are homeless will hang around where they can get some services or help.” 

He said having a shelter downtown in the community rather than hiding homeless people away also brings out the generosity and kindness of residents who see people in need.  

“I think what also happens is that local people kind of open up their hearts,” Woytowich said. 

“With people seeing that we’re running a shelter, we tend to get more donations of winter coats and socks and things like that, to provide them as well.” 

Last year while Woytowich was mayor several business owners on the main drag in La Ronge feared a permanent shelter in the area would hurt their bottom line and successfully lobbied town council not to approve the sale of a new building in the area.

The friendship centre then didn’t have the money to make needed repairs at the Scattered Site location before winter hit, so Kikinahk rented Drifter’s Motel in a last-minute scramble for a solution. 

When the motel filled up a second space was rented from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. 

Mayor Colin Ratushniak expressed frustration at the yearly nature of funding renewals for the shelter and wanted a more long-term solution.

The mayor began to look for alternatives to running the shelter through Kikinahk. 

A working group was set up that included people from the Town of La Ronge, Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the Northern Village of Air Ronge to find another solution that has so far not materialized. 

Woytowich said running the shelter alongside the Scattered Site outreach program comes at no cost to the public and Kikinahk has experience working with vulnerable people.  

“The shelter itself is no burden on the community in terms of taxes but we do really want their support,” Woytowich said.

“I’m hoping that people realize that the service we provide is more than adequate. It’s in the right location and it doesn’t cost the town or the village or the band anything in terms of money.”

This year Woytowich said he has funding both to operate the shelter and for needed repairs to the building — which will cut costs in the long-run.

“We’re going to find out in the next week whether it’s going to simply pass an inspection or whether it’s going to cost between $20,000 and $40,000,” Woytowich said. 

Last year about 40 people needed shelter, up from the yearly average of 19 regular clients. Higher demand and pandemic protocols brought costs up.  

Woytowich said he doesn’t expect the same this year because accommodations are less attractive than a motel room — but he’ll look for solutions if needed.   

“We’ll have to cross that bridge if it comes to that,” Woytowich said.  

“The place we have is only so large.”

Woytowich is also looking to hire shelter workers at an increased salary of $18 per hour. Job-seekers can apply at the Kikinahk Friendship Centre and will need to pass a vulnerable sector check with the RCMP.