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Funding provides support for wildfire evacuees

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor COLD LAKE







October 12, 2016.

It’s money better late than never but Cold Lake Friendship Society Executive Director Agnes Gendron admits the funding would have been handy in May or June.

The friendship centre was one of three organizations to each receive $70,000 today from the province through the Alberta Rural Development Network.

Funding was provided to projects in Cold Lake, Anzac and Fort Chipewyan aimed at addressing what Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir referred to as “the unique challenges of rural homelessness.” The money is intended to help those impacted by the wildfire that spread through the Fort McMurray area in May.

“It is a good surprise, because friendship centres in Alberta do a lot of work for the homeless,” said Gendron.

The funding will be used by CLFS to support its Helping Hand project. Established in response to the wildfire, the project assists with accommodations, employment, food and other essentials.

Cold Lake was a popular layover for both people seeking shelter away from the fire that left neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray uninhabitable, forced close to 88,000 people to flee, and claimed approximately 590,000 acres in Wood Buffalo.

“I’m not sure how many people are still here but they will be coming forward now that they know we have this money,” said Gendron.

She adds that support will be given to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

“A lot of people come through the friendship centre looking for help,” she said.

Funding will help those still displaced by the fire get accommodations in Cold Lake. With the oilfield operating at less than full capacity, Gendron says housing is available. She’s not sure how high rent is, though.

She adds that the funding will also be shared with the nearby men’s homeless shelter and Cold Lake’s food bank.

“I know there’s a lot of people using the food bank,” said Gendron.

The Rehoboth Alliance will use its $70,000 in Anzac to provide an intensive six-month program for as many as 10 young people from the community, who were impacted by the wildfire. The program includes counselling and skill development, complemented by a rent subsidy and other supports.

The Mikisew Cree Nation will use its funding to hire a fire-relief support liaison worker to help those affected by the wildfire, who reside in or are from Fort Chipewyan.

“Everyone deserves a safe, secure, and affordable place to call home,” said Sabir in a statement.  

The funding is part of the province’s commitment to support those affected by the northern Alberta wildfire. It is in addition to the $30.3 million contributed by the province to support wildfire recovery efforts and the almost $100 million distributed for wildfire emergency relief funding.