15 people relocated after shelter closes in Fort McMurray

People who lived in a building that housed a Fort McMurray emergency shelter are still trying to adjust after the province cut funding for the facility, forcing the eviction of 15 apartment tenants.

In October, the provincial government notified Wood Buffalo Housing, a not-for-profit housing provider, that it would no longer fund Marshall House.

Wood Buffalo Housing said it was told the decision was made because the shelter was operating at half capacity, and because it was thought residents could get the same services through other organizations.

The three-storey building, which closed on Jan. 31, had a homeless shelter with capacity for 100 people on its main floor and 29 transitional housing units on the second and third floors.

Holly Quintal moved into Marshall House last August, paying $700 a month for an apartment.

Quintal has fetal-alcohol-spectrum disorder and gets about $1,700 a month from the province’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program.

When she found out Marshall House was shutting down, she was scared.  

“I was like, ‘Oh no, what am I going to do now?'” Quintal said. “Are you just going to kick us out and you have no place to go?”

Quintal, who moved out at the end of January, got help finding a new place to live from Wood Buffalo Housing and the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society.

She signed a 12-month lease on another apartment at $1,000 a month.

The Wood Buffalo Wellness Society helped Quintal move, and is paying the extra $300 a month for her rent. 

Still, Quintal said she’s worried because she’ll have to pay for extras like laundry and power, which she didn’t pay before.

Now that she has moved to an apartment, Holly Quintal has her own kitchen. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

“I have to buy groceries all month and that money is not going to last me.”

At Marshall House, she could get a hot dinner at the shelter.

Quital said local organizations helped her move and helped make the transition from the shelter to the apartment smooth. 

Henry Hunter, president and CEO of the Wood Buffalo Housing, said the tenants either found new places on their own or had help from local agencies. 

“It was a tough task,” Hunter said. “We got the notification in October and so we spent four months trying to get individuals homes.”

Hunter said he was disappointed when he found out Marshall House would lose its funding. 

Wood Buffalo Housing couldn’t keep it open because rent payments weren’t covering the costs of upkeep.

He said the organization worked with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Wood Buffalo Wellness Society, YMCA and Salvation Army to find everyone accommodations. 

Cassie Gensorek, team leader of community services with the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society, said they worked for months trying to make sure everyone had somewhere to go when the shelter closed. The wellness society found housing for 10 of the 15 tenants.

The society also helped move those tenants into their new homes.

“We sacrificed our entire agency’s worth of staff to get in there and help people move boxes,” said Gensorek, who added it took two to three weeks. 

For some tenants, she said, Marshall House represented the longest period of stable housing they had ever had.  

“I couldn’t even imagine what it was like for some people who were living in Marshall House.” 

She said once everyone is stabilized in their new homes they’ll start looking at other long-term support for the tenants. And they’ll work with tenants to make sure all of their needs are met. 

“We do this so, again, nobody is left cold, nobody is left hungry, nobody is left homeless when there’s something that we can do about it.”

Wood Buffalo Housing is asking for expressions of interest from agencies and Indigenous communities to see if anyone has ideas to partner up and find a use for the building.

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