Evacuees from some communities in northern Saskatchewan are allowed to go home, but 9,724 people are still left behind at shelters and hotels waiting to get the same good news.
On Wednesday, the Evraz Place evacuation centre closed in Regina with hundreds of people moving to Saskatoon and many others making the journey home. As of Thursday, there are 3,327 people staying in Saskatoon, 4,389 in Prince Albert, 256 in North Battleford and 798 in Cold Lake. About 954 people are still registered with the Red Cross and Emergency Social Services in the Queen City.
About 65 evacuees are staying at the University of Regina because they have medical issues, 440 others are staying in hotels around the city, and about 440 more are estimated to be staying with friends or family.
Nicole Halkett was evacuated from La Ronge with her baby son Luke and the rest of her family members.
“It’s lonely and hard knowing that I can’t go back home,” she said while visiting the Gathering Place in Regina.
The Gathering Place is one example of how the generosity of strangers is offering comfort to those who are temporarily homeless. For Halkett and hundreds of other evacuees, the community centre offers a bit of extra support beyond what they get from the Red Cross.
As Halkett sorts through piles of donated clothing in the gym, she says the support means a lot.
“It feels good actually, and if I weren’t an evacuee, I would be helping here too,” she commented.
Erica Beaudin is the urban services manager of Regina Treaty Status Indian Services. For the past few weeks she has been working with the regular staff and volunteers at the Gathering Place to organize donations and home cooked meals for hundreds of evacuees. Through the past two weeks, the group has also organized family entertainment and opened a lounge for elders. On Wednesday, volunteers were cutting hair at the tent outside while others were sorting through piles of donated clothing.
Beaudin says the response from the community has been absolutely amazing, and the proof is in the words of thanks from evacuees who visit.
“We’ve been told that the city of Regina has had the best response to the evacuees,” she commented.
Beaudin has been getting to know many of the evacuees personally. She says hearing their stories truly makes you appreciate what you have yourself. Helping them makes all the extra work worthwhile.
“Listening to the people who come here and they have tears pouring down their face, they’re so incredibly grateful for every single thing,” she said. “It’s such an immense amount of gratitude as well as humility in the role of serving others.”
Some activities at the Gathering Place are winding down this weekend, but she says they are still planning to offer donations and one meal a day to about 500 people.
There are rooms full of donated clothing and toys, and Beaudin says they still need help from volunteers to sort it.