back to imageDESIGN

Grande Prairie's online lifestyle magazine.

archive view articles category:

Simple Gifts: St. Lawrence Centre

By Erika Sherk

The St. Lawrence Centre serves up warmth, coffee, and companionship to Grande Prairie’s homeless population.

Just as winter hit, the St. Lawrence Centre (SLC) opened. As a daytime homeless drop-in centre, its most elemental service is simple: providing warmth to those with nowhere else to go.

“If you’ve ever shimmied from your car into the office on a cold day, you’d understand the need,” says Jared Gossen, project lead for SLC.

Open since November 16th, 2015, about 40 men and women are visiting daily.

“The St. Lawrence Centre, in very short order, has become a bright light to a lot of people who don’t have a lot,” says Christopher Lennox.

Lennox has been homeless for a year. He spends his days helping out at the centre.

“The SLC makes a difference,” Lennox says. “They [the homeless] don’t see much of a future in themselves, but they know there’s a place where they can get a coffee, talk to a friend, use a computer to stay in touch with family… I think it’s a great place.”

The dream of a daytime drop-in for the homeless was discussed by the City of Grande Prairie’s agencies and service providers for years, explains Gossen. “It generally fizzled out when the traditional funding streams did not support it.”

However, a group who believed it needed to exist—including Gossen—came together to make it happen. They started fundraising a year and a half ago.

Gossen and his wife, Jennifer, had been partnering with the Church of Christ on homelessness projects for five years by that point. “We saw the cool impact that a loving supportive environment can make in the lives of people who are having a hard time,” says Gossen. “We said, ‘if we’re doing it one day a week, why not take this show on the road and try to make sure people always have a warm place to go where they feel welcomed and safe?’’

The SLC partners with the Salvation Army to use the latter’s dining room to serve breakfast and lunch every weekday and supper three days a week. The SLC fills the gaps between those times.

“I like to be very honest—you’re not going to see people curing cancer. It is the base level emergency service,” says Gossen.

The aim is not to try to ‘fix’ people. It is to provide a few basic things to fellow human beings: warmth so they don’t freeze, a cup of coffee, a shared laugh while watching Star Trek.

And it’s meant to impact more than those coming in to get warm. The aim is to change the lives of volunteers and donors as well. “I really hope to connect different parts of our community,” Gossen says. “Our mission is to create opportunities for the homeless and the housed to share life together.”

The SLC’s annual fundraising goal is $130,000. It launched a ‘2,000 Strong’ campaign in October, based on the idea of 2,000 people each giving $50. To date, $52,000 has been donated.

“In time, I think it will grow into something even better,” says Lennox.

The St. Lawrence Centre is new to Grande Prairie, providing a safe and warm drop-in shelter for the homeless community. imageDESIGN is thrilled to be able to contribute to this amazing cause for our annual holiday donation and spread awareness. For more information visit St. Lawrence Centre’s website.

Contributor: Erika Sherk

A lifelong writer and creative spirit, Erika has a degree in journalism from Carleton University with a minor in political science. The Beaverlodge native has worked as a full-time journalist in both the Canadian Arctic and the Middle East and freelanced from Nunavut, Spain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates as well as, of course, the Peace Country.