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Shelters need winter gear

Posted on December 4, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

A cold snap across southern Alberta last month, and an impending blizzard forecast for the region early this week, has left Lethbridge’s homeless population scrambling to find warm winter gear.

At Lethbridge’s homeless shelter, the clientele has snapped up early donations of tuques, gloves and jackets and the centre is looking for more to last through the winter.

“We usually have a big shortage when it gets cold because right at once a bunch of people will take a whole bunch of stuff at the beginning of the winter,” said Yolande Weasel Head, the shelter’s resource centre co-ordinator and diversion team lead. “And then because of addictions and transiency and that sort of thing, they’ll have something in the beginning but maybe a coat will get lost or they can’t hold on to all of their materials so then they’ll end up needing things all throughout the year, not just at winter.”

Contrary to popular belief, the number of people on Lethbridge’s streets decreases in winter and rises in summer. People tend to be more transient once warm weather hits, Weasel Head said, so the shelter’s occupancy rates usually dip as Old Man Winter blows in. In the past month, the shelter has seen an average of 70 to 80 people a night. It has room for more than 100 people and is open 24/7.

The shelter currently needs donations of clothing, light blankets, towels, boots, gloves, hats, socks and personal toiletries such as body wash, shampoo and combs.

Streets Alive Mission is experiencing similar needs. Since the city’s first cold snap of the fall in late October, the mission has given out about 40 pairs of gloves, 60 sweaters and 100 jackets. Between now and March, the mission expects it will need at least another 200 jackets, according to Streets Alive co-director Ken Kissick.

Trail system growing

Construction is nearly complete on Lethbridge’s latest pedestrian pathway, one of five new routes added to the city’s network this year.

The newest is a looping route at the Popson Park dog run on the city’s westside. Dave Ellis, the city’s parks manager, says that means all three dog runs — including Botterill Bottom Park, accessed from Scenic Drive South, and northside Peenaquim Park, near Softball Valley — have a circular route for dogs and their owners.

“People don’t like dead-end trails,” he explains.

But the Popson facility is just the latest. Ellis says the city’s pathway system has passed the 200-kilometre mark and it keeps on growing.

Earlier this year, parks officials opened walking and cycling routes linking the busy Whoop-Up Drive path to Heritage Pointe West and a coulee-view path connecting Lethbridge College to Tudor Estates. As well, they added a new trail in Bull Trail Park below Coachwood Point.

Earlier in the fall, meanwhile, the city’s transportation department opened a paved trail along the new section of Scenic Drive North, and re-connected a downhill path from Stafford Avenue North to Softball Valley.

And in new subdivisions across the city, developers continued to create local pathways which allow residents easy access to parks, ponds and other amenities.

Now it’s time to select next year’s projects, Ellis says.

The city completed a pathways and “bikeways” master plan in 2007, he says, and moved on to complete a functional study in  2010.

Soldier’s death probed

The provincial government is investigating after a soldier died earlier this week in Lethbridge. It’s one of two apparent suicides of soldiers in Western Canada that have spawned at least one police investigation and more questions about the military’s practice of discharging troops deemed medically unfit for service.

Both soldiers, who died in separate incidents, had ties to Canadian Forces Base Shilo in Manitoba.

Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast, 28, was transferred in July from CFB Shilo to Lethbridge’s reserve unit in the 20th Independent Field Battery. He died in hospital Monday after being found “in medical duress” in his cell at Lethbridge Correctional Centre last Friday.

Alberta’s department of Justice and Solicitor General is investigating Halmrast’s death because he was in jail at the time of the incident, a spokesperson said.

New space for society

A much bigger, brighter new space for Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society means the aboriginal children and families non-profit can expand popular programs and reduce wait lists. The organization has celebrated the grand opening of its new space at 241 Stafford Drive N. — a location about 10 times bigger than its original home.

“We started our program in just a small, little room probably no more than 600 square feet,” in a basement office in downtown Lethbridge, said executive director Tanya Pace-Crosschild.

That was 17 years ago, when Opokaa’sin offered only one after-school program.

Since then, it’s grown to include a wide variety of support programs for aboriginal children and their parents, such as preschool programs, parenting classes, Blackfoot language classes, a satellite kindergarten program through the Blood Reserve’s Kainai Board of Education, youth mentorship and programs for adults with developmental disabilities.

A growing urban aboriginal population means more children and families — about 85 daily — are accessing programs in Lethbridge, Pace-Crosschild said. She said Opokaa’sin will continue to grow to meet their needs.

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