The Ulh’ goh Bi’ yoh Native Friendship Center Society was incorporated in August this year and are holding their grand opening ceremony this month in the district.
This initiative has been made possible by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #268 in Fort St. James as they donated their building to use for community based services. This branch was decommissioned in the district.
The newly formed Friendship Center society aspires to maintain a year-round shelter, said George HoLem, special projects consultant for the Friendship Center Society.
Long term goals include wrap around programs and services to meet the needs of community members in health and wellness, training and employment, education, addictions and housing, he said.
The shelter has been implemented through BC Housing’s Emergency Weather Response Program and will be delivered by Fort St. James based Key Resource Centre, HoLem added.
“The homeless shelter is a priority, but we will have a very effective referral program in place to direct our clients as per their need to get special or professional assistance. Also, for the community at large, we would have employment and training programs as well,” he said.
The grand opening ceremony for the Friendship Centre is being held at 2 pm on Nov. 16, at 375 E. Stuart Drive which was formerly the Royal Candian Legion Hall.
The project has been supported by Nak’azdli Whut’en, District of Fort St. James, RCMP, Chamber of Commerce, Men of the North Society, One Sparc Consulting Inc. and the Key Resource Centre.
“There is absolutely a demand for the shelter,” said Derrick Statt, manager of the shelter on behalf of the Key Resource Centre.
Last year, the beds in the shelter were used 1300 times. This year, they have two locations open for people looking for shelter. You can go to the Key Resource Centre in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the the shelter that is running in the Friendship Centre can be accessed 24 x 7, he said.
He said that in past years the shelter would be open only for 12 hours, but this year they realized right in the beginning that 24 hours was required.
“We thought we would be more proactive and not reactive,” Statt said.
There are 12 beds in the shelter with a couple of pull-out couches as well that can be used. Statt said the shelter is low-barrier which means they don’t turn anybody away.
The contribution of the building by the legion is huge for the community, he added.
More photos and information about the activities to be offered through the Friendship Center will be made available after the opening on Nov. 16.