The death of a homeless Montreal Lake woman in La Ronge is raising questions about support services in the northern community.
Nicole “Tracey” Bird was found dead Saturday morning, Feb. 27. RCMP said her death may have been related to the cold weather.
Ron Woytowich is the executive director of Scattered Sites Outreach Program and the Kikinahk Friendship Centre in La Ronge, which is working together to provide homeless support. He said their joint program is working well, but there are more people in need than they anticipated. The Extended Hours program runs out of the Scattered Sites building.
“We’re supposed to have a capacity of 10 but we have a lot more. We estimated 20 people would really be consistent and we’ve had over 60 individuals use that centre overnight.”
According to Woytowich their hot meal dinner program serves over 1,000 meals a month.
Instead of providing beds, the program provides lawn chairs and couches. As soon as people are deemed to be living in a building, there is a whole new set of building code requirements.
“It’s not illegal for any business to be open all night,” he said. “It’s a nice warm place to be and if you want to use the lawn chair and put it back to rest we’re not going to stop you, but that’s as far as it’s going to be.”
Scattered Sites received funding to run from November to the end of March and be open from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day. Even with being open overnight, Woytowich says it’s not enough.
“Right now they don’t have a place from 4 p.m. when we close Scattered Sites, to 10 p.m. (when we reopen). If they’re wandering around downtown the businesses kick them out of their building and they have to go somewhere else. And then they have to make their way back to our shelter at 10 p.m. That’s not really the best thing that can happen.”
A petition for a La Ronge homeless shelter was started by Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette and reached more than 1,500 signatures. The campaign raised enough money for the test of a shelter in February and March, which helped the Kikinahk Friendship Centre and Scattered Sites receive their funding.
Woytowich said he’s received a letter of support from La Ronge mayor Thomas Sierzycki.
Sierzycki offered his condolences to the family of Tracey Bird.
“As a society, we need to continue to do things to improve the lives of everyone in our community. It’s just tragic and very saddening,” the mayor said.
He said homelessness is a “multi-faceted” issue that has no easy solution.
“Anytime someone passes, it really showed that as a society we need to continue working on what’s important and that’s the lives of people and bettering the lives of people in the community.
“There needs to be action in order to prevent some of these things from happening. Unfortunately it did happen and there is no words to describe what people are going to be feeling that are friends and family to Miss Bird.”
On Mar. 7, Woytowich will recommend funding be found to keep the outreach program open for another month. “The end of March is still cold and April will still be cold.”