Raising awareness for the reality of homelessness in Fort McMurray

By Theresa Wells

Perhaps the most sobering moment of the night was just after 11:30 pm when Stephen Bryant, Executive Director of Centre of Hope, read out the names of the almost 50 homeless individuals who have died on the streets of Fort McMurray since the daytime drop-in facility opened. The candlelight vigil and recitation of the names is an integral part of Hope in the Dark presented by ATCO GAS, the annual homelessness awareness event that closes out a week dedicated to raising awareness of homelessness in the Wood Buffalo region.

This year Hope in the Dark marked its third year as an event designed to encourage residents to give up their beds for one night to “sleep rough” in a park in downtown Fort McMurray, raising awareness and understanding of the reality homeless individuals in the community face every day. The Centre of Hope is a daytime drop-in facility at the corner of Franklin Avenue and McLeod Street, welcoming hundreds of individuals every week who are currently experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless. The facility offers a variety of services, from shower and laundry facilities to opportunities for homeless individuals to access health care and connects with other community services.

“The night saw 20 plus individuals sleeping outside; this was a great turn-out. Especially when we consider all of the amazing events that took place in our community over the weekend,” said Barb Rex, Fund Development and Communication at Centre of Hope.

The twenty-plus community members attending Hope in the Dark on Saturday May 31 slept in the park area behind the Clearwater Public Education Centre, adopting a variety of methods to adapt to a night outdoors from tents to tarps, sleeping bags and plastic. The event is designed to raise awareness of homelessness in the community and provide one night of experience to provide the perspective of a homeless individual to the participants.

Beginning with a barbecue at 7:00 pm and ending with a 5:30 am breakfast, Hope in the Dark participants had the opportunity to collect recycling items to “purchase” their meal for the night as well as hear speakers from Some Other Solutions, the Centre of Hope, RMWB Councillor Phil Meagher and Dee Bentley, representing Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Don Scott.

“It rained part way through the night and not one person gave up or complained. For those sleeping under the stars, they simply became resourceful and found items to cover themselves,” added Rex, noting that the inclement weather did not deter participants from continuing to participate in the event.

Rex also added: “We were so pleased to have had Honorable Don Scott stop in with Jim Prentice for our candlelight vigil which had participants and staff remember the 48 individuals who have died on our streets.”

More information about Centre of Hope and the services they provide can be found at www.fmcentreofhope.com