Mustard Seed expands shelter program for winter

The Mustard Seed is expanding its shelter program and hiring 40 people for its new Commonwealth and Wetaskiwin shelters.

Dean Kurpjuweit, chief regional officer at the Mustard Seed, said both shelters will offer services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during the winter.

“We are excited to be the service provider at the Commonwealth Stadium pod that was announced by the premier and the mayor a couple of weeks ago,” Kurpjuweit said Friday. “We’re looking to open that up mid-December.”

Premier Jason Kenney announced last month that $1.5 million has been committed to operate Commonwealth Stadium as an emergency shelter this winter. The shelter will have about 200 beds and provide on-site overdose prevention and treatment services. 

The City of Wetaskiwin reached out to the Mustard Seed in September for help with its homeless population.

“Out of that we began having some discussions about the needs in Wetaskiwin and how maybe we might be able to fill some of those needs this winter,” Kurpjuweit said.

The Westaskiwin shelter is set to open on Monday. That day, the Mustard Seed will hold a hiring fair from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at its community support centre in Edmonton.

Kurpjuweit said the Christian non-profit agency is looking for people who have an education or background in social work, but they are flexible.

“The main thing we’re looking for isn’t so much the pedigree of education,” he said. “It’s more the compassionate side, people that really want to support the vulnerable.”

Kurpjuweit said the new hires will find themselves on the front lines.

“Anything from intake, to helping with meal service, to connecting clients with housing workers and advocates,” he explained. 

Mustard Seed employees and volunteers dish out hot meals for clients. (Submitted by The Mustard Seed)

The two new shelters are temporary, and will be open until March 31.

The available jobs are temporary full-time positions but Kurpjuweit said they often become permanent.

The new shelters and hiring are in response to more people needing help, he said, adding that Edmonton was making progress on eliminating homelessness before the pandemic arrived.

“COVID certainly set us back; there are more homeless now than there were two years ago,” Kurpjuweit said.

“Prior to COVID we were on a good track, we were doing a great job, and my expectation is that despite the fact that numbers are up, numbers will start going down again.”

Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee agrees the pandemic has had a negative impact on efforts to end homelessness, which is the organization’s main goal.

Homeward Trust tracks numbers based on people it has connected with at various facilities.

“It’s increased significantly over the last two years and to give you an idea, prior to the pandemic we’d seen a reduction of about 45 per cent in our community in terms of that indicator,” McGee said. “We’ve just seen a lot more people experience a housing crisis and end up homeless for the first time.”

She said mental health and addictions issues are contributing factors. McGee believes housing is the best solution but it must be coupled with other services.

“Sometimes that means treatment, sometimes and often that means connecting to mental health services, but it’s really difficult to support people if they don’t actually have a stable place to live,” she said. 

“I think through the pandemic it’s been acknowledged, and I think really reinforced that housing is critical to health.”

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