By: Susan McNeil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald

The new warmup shelter downtown now has 20 overnight beds after receiving funding from the province and a permit from the City of Prince Albert.

Prince Albert Grand Council opened the Union Centre on 8th St. East as a daytime warming shelter at the beginning of December, but has now expanded the services.

Council unanimously supported the PAGC request.

“I feel that this is very much needed in our city and I think we can all agree that these have been ongoing issues,” said Coun. Tony Head, who made the motion to approve the request.

“This shelter would assist with some of the most vulnerable having a place to sleep at night. I know there’s some limitations to the current shelter we have at the Exhibition Centre.”

Funding came from the province following a joint effort by staff, said Mayor Greg Dionne.

“I want to thank Jeff Desmond from the Grand Council and City Manager Jim Toye. They tag teamed Minister Carr from Social Service and got $88,000 from the province to run the shelter,” said Dionne.

A cold winter so far meant that the need was urgent and Dionne said he polled council by email when he learned the money had been granted and all councillors voted in favour.

“We moved swiftly to approve their location. We’re just confirming it today,” he said.

Planning and Development Director Craig Guidinger said during the Jan. 24 regular meeting where the permit was approved that the Stepping Stones shelter also received a federal government grant. The $30,000 grant will cover shelter renovations.

Head asked later in the meeting to have the City grant an additional $10,000 for the PAGC shelter

“I think this money, this is going to save lives this shelter,” he said. “It’s important that we do our best and all we can to support that and that means financial. $10,000 doesn’t seem a lot when we’re passing $3 million for a design. It’s not going to put the city out but it will make a huge difference to the people that are going to use that shelter.”

Council as a whole was not in favour, saying that homelessness is a provincial responsibility.

“Each level of government has a responsibility. Our responsibility is to make sure that we zone the building properly. Our responsibility is make sure there is police protection. We spend a lot of money on policing and we provide protection for not only this shelter, but Stepping Stones and Homeward Bound,” Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said.

Dionne said that city staff and other organizations have worked hard on getting the shelter approved and they have spent time advocating to provincial authorities for funding but taxpayers are not supportive of city money going to the shelter.

“I’ve heard loud and clear from our taxpayers that they don’t want us to get involved,” he said. “As soon as we open the door to downloading from the government, that door will be wide open. We’ll be inviting in more and more.”