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‘Moose Caboose’ is a new way to help vulnerable residents

The outreach van was created in response to the danger homeless people face when sleeping outside in freezing temperatures.
(L to R) Aaron Opoonechaw, Jarrett Ahenakew and Natalie Clyke before they started the night with the Moose Caboose.

PRINCE ALBERT - The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is offering a new mobile warming shelter called the “Moose Caboose” for Prince Albert’s vulnerable population.

The Moose Caboose Cold Weather Outreach Van was on the streets of Prince Albert in the last week of December. The outreach van was created in response to the danger homeless people face when sleeping outside in freezing temperatures. The outreach van is scheduled to run every night from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“We have been looking at opportunities to help our homeless and vulnerable,” said Natalie Clyke of the PAGC Urban Services Community Cares Kitchen. “There is an interesting story that we are currently spiraling into and it's understanding the true needs of our vulnerable.”

Clyke said Urban Services already has established relationships with a number of homeless residents, so they know what challenges they are facing. Since creating the new mobile warmup shelter, however, Clyke said they’re meeting new group of people who do not use the warmup shelter at the Moose Lodge.

“They are not able to get to the shelter and they are absolutely houseless, absolutely without housing,” she explained. “So the support system that we think we have in place in our city doesn't exist.

“What's happening is lot of our people are getting evicted through security services, you know the tuck aways in apartment blocks and the exteriors, and at that point they are left shifted out of that West Hill location with no remedy for them other than to shift and move again to another unknown location where the risk of them being compromised by the cold weather increases.”

Clyke explained that the gravity of the situation has become even more apparent since the Moose Caboose started operating on Tuesday.

“I think the point that is being driven is there are a lot of people who do not have access to the donations and all of the pretty faces of the YWCA and those are the people that are truly affected by homelessness,” she explained. “The urgency of the Outreach program which, by the direction of our Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, looked to remedy in the quickest fashion a program that would be able to get to those people who do not necessarily have access to the shelter through an Outreach van and then subsequently getting them to the shelter.”

The idea dates back to Nov. 17 when PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte brought together staff and officials from PAGC, PAGC’s Senate, PAGC’s Women’s Commission, Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Little Red Reserve, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, YWCA Prince Albert, Prince Albert Indian Métis Friendship Centre, West Flat Community Centre, River Bank Development Corporation, Parkland ambulance Care, Prince Albert Downtown Business Improvement District and the Prince Albert Police Service to discuss the need for emergency overnight spaces for the city’s homeless population.

The PAGC decided to go ahead with the idea after the City of Prince Albert held a homeless strategy meeting in December.

“PAGC wasn't invited to the table on that conversation when we are clearly providing one of the larger services to the immediate needs of our homeless and vulnerable,” Clyke explained.

She added that Hardlotte put the direction out to be able to provide for people in a more immediate fashion.

“We have outreach programming operating seven days a week,” she said. “We have some very experienced people.”

The group identified the urgent need for an outreach van after the death of a member of Montreal Lake Cree Nation who was found in the business district following a snowstorm in early November.

“Our many partners in the city recognize that it is our collective responsibility to help our most vulnerable members in need. For those without a home, the cold weather poses a desperate life-and-death situation, and we need to do our best to help them in these situations,” Hardlotte said in a press release Friday.

“For their own reasons, some of them are choosing not to go the available shelters, so we want to provide them with another option that they find welcoming, comfortable and safe. Now that we have this outreach van in operation, we have staff who will be able to drive around the city late at night and make sure that no one else will be left struggling on their own,” he explained.

Clyke said that there about 50 to 70 people who need shelter from her observations.

“Out of the seven and a half hours last night I would say that we were able to spend 45 minutes getting to the shelter, bringing our people and actually physically on location and we dealt with the seven at the end of the night and three other turn aways. On the first night one of those turn aways was a pregnant woman, she was located at the Stepping Stones and we ended up bringing her to an address at the 1900 block of 14th Street West, she had no transportation to get there,” Clyke said.

The Moose Caboose Cold Weather Outreach Van will be moving through the streets of Prince Albert and addressing the immediate needs through Outreach.

The name of the Moose Caboose is derived from the “Moose Lodge” warming shelter named after James “Moose” Sewap who passed away in the summer of 2021 on a bench along the Rotary Trail.

Clyke said the reception has been positive so far.

“There was a lady who had made a comment (on Facebook) about how Moose would be so proud to know that his kindness continues on,” Clyke said. “This is exactly what the goal was. We can't forget an individual who was a victim of the system and his kindness can't be forgotten because he really had an impact on the people that he protected on the street.

“All we can do to honour his memory and honour his spirit by being the larger arms that we would have wrapped around our people and taking his jacket off of him to provide for that person, we are providing that jacket. We have got a sandwich, we have got those things right at hand when they need it the most.”

The “Moose Caboose” is offered through PAGC Urban Services’ Community Cares Kitchen. Updates can be found on PAGC’s Facebook page.

They are always looking for donations and since launching on Tuesday they have had numerous people reach out including Tipi Fuel who donated toques and gloves.

“We had two separate vehicles which pulled up to our location with donations. People can come right up to the Caboose with donations or we can go to them to pick up those donations,” she said.

Clyke said as little as 12 treats make an impact because people are able to sit down in the vehicle and they can ride around.

“We had the five that needed to warm up that's for a little over an hour, we drove the loop of the city and check on our other vulnerable in the city. It's totally okay we want to encourage that. We want to be a space where they can warm up until we figure out where we can drop them off or they can make a plan. That's our priority,” Clyke said.

They open each conversation by offering a cup of tea to the person. Clyke said they start every conversation by asking the vulnerable if they would like a cup of tea.

“They are now orientating to seeing the Moose Caboose, (and) they are recognizing that is maybe Moose Lodge,” she said. “At that point we are introducing ourselves again and their guard is down because either they know about us or they know us because we have staff that know our people and can advocate for them in their unique and diverse situations.”