by Colin Smith
Perceptions that there are currently more transients than usual in Morinville are correct, according to Elisabeth Melvin, manager of the Higher Grounds Espresso Bar.
Melvin said Higher Grounds, which provides coffee and light meals at no charge to people in need, has been serving greater numbers this summer.
“I would say at the beginning of the summer there was a notable increase,” she said. “I’m not sure where they came from. It makes you question as to what brought them.”
Morinville residents have been expressing concerns on social media about a transient increase, and related problems such as panhandling, thefts and irregular camping.
Lori McLaughlin, owner of The Flower Shop, has also seen much more transient activity this summer than previously in the 3 1/2 years she has been operating the store.
She’s been concerned by encounters with panhandlers, including hanging around outside her store at early and late hours and loitering inside the business.
“It’s just getting so bad,” McLaughlin said. “It’s really sad if we can’t feel safe.”
She fears the situation may worsen when cold weather arrives and people have no place to sleep and become more desperate.
“It’s a little unnerving,” said McLaughlin. “I don’t know what the answer is .”
Homelessness is something most communities experience and Morinville is no exception, stated Mayor Barry Turner, adding that recent incidents have made its impact much more visible.
Turner said that Family Community Support Services has been working with individuals who are accepting assistance to connect them with available resources and programs available locally and regionally.
Until more permanent programs and services are accessed, temporary local assistance has been provided where possible under the mandate of the Family Community Support Services (FCSS).
“When discussing issues of poverty and homelessness, each person’s individual situation is unique and complex, with many possible contributing factors. Each situation is handled individually and with respect,” said Turner.
Identifying community needs and service gaps is the aim of a Community Needs Assessment now underway. Information is being collected from community stakeholders for a report to go to Council.
“Council is looking forward to receiving this report back for review and potential action on a variety of social issues in Morinville, inclusive of support services for those experiencing low income, poverty and homelessness,” Turner said.
“Whenever members of a community experience poverty and homelessness it should be a concern to all. Part of being an inclusive and welcoming community is caring about the wellbeing of all residents.”
That sentiment is reflected in the Higher Grounds Giving Tree program that enables customers to donate the cost of a cup of coffee, bowl of soup or sandwich that will then be served for free to people in need.
Melvin points out that it’s not just about a free meal, however. When people come in for that, it gives the staff a chance to make contact and possibly connect them with FCSS for housing, rehabilitation and other services.
While in the café they are expected to behave in such a manner that they are pleasant to be around, she noted.