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Ai image of homeless people leaving a school bus in a small prairie town
The Rockies.Life Staff

The Bonnyville Bus Brouhaha: Fact or Fable?

The rumours of unhoused people being bused into Bonnyville mask a grimmer reality of inadequate rural support systems

How rumours get started is often hard to pinpoint. 

They’re often guesses that morph into ever wilder stories through a cross-town game of tell and retell.

But sometimes, rumours tell a grain of truth about an underlying issue or problem.

This is certainly the case when it comes to recent rumours about unhoused people being bussed to Bonnyville.

Main Street Bonnyville, Alberta
Bonnyville Main Street | Wikipedia

A Growing Problem

Despite its idyllic-sounding name, the small town of 6,400 people is dealing with many of the same issues being faced by larger centres across the province; people struggling to get by financially or living with crippling addictions.

But in this rural town, the last thing we would expect is people left to live out on the street, unhoused.

Thus began the rumours.

In the past few years, rural shelters in the area say the population of houseless residents has grown exponentially.

Janice Gobert, the Director of Operations for the Bonnyville Friendship Centre, has seen firsthand the effects of the increasing demand for services.

“I even received a call myself from a single father that was asking if it would be possible for him in his child to stay [at the men’s shelter], and that’s something we didn’t see prior,” she told Lakeland Today.

“They couldn’t [stay] due to safety concerns. It was quite disheartening.” 

With so many more people in need of social services, speculation began around town on where the increasing number of unhoused people were coming from.

Bus People?

Someone began circulating the rumour on social media that houseless people were being “sent” into town on buses from elsewhere.

It’s gossip that Bonnyville RCMP and frontline workers say isn’t true.

“In regard to the Friendship Center, we have not seen that to be the case,” said Gobert

“What we are seeing is more individuals coming in from Cold Lake and the surrounding communities. They are here for a short period of time; then, they navigate back to their own communities once again. But as for being bussed in – I would say that is totally inaccurate.” 

Staff Sgt. Sarah Parke of the RCMP added, “I, too, have heard this through the rumour mill and am curious where it started.” 

The rumour may make some sense to those who don’t work directly with houseless people in the area, but the real reason behind the increase seems a lot more sinister.

At the end of the day, it isn’t rocket science.

Homelessness is a growing problem across Albert and is not restricted to large centres | Canva
Homelessness is a growing problem across Albert and is not restricted to large centres | Canva

Lack of Social Services

Across Alberta, the pandemic resulted in the closure or loss of countless essential social service programs, especially in rural areas.

Many of these programs have resumed operations in the last few years, but in some places, they have never returned.

Rural areas have been the hardest hit by these losses, many surrounding Bonnyville.

For Kathy Hayward, the Jobs Corps training program, which previously operated out of Lac La Biche, changed her life. 

At its peak, about 250 people completed the program in Lac La Biche each year, and the majority successfully found employment once done.

Hayward was one of those people. 

“I learned that there’s a different part of me. When you’re in addiction, you’re not living right. And you don’t even know what you have until you get something like [Job Corps] to bring it out,” she told Great West Media.

Then 2020 happened.

In October 2020, then Premier  Jason Kenney, announced the closure of all remaining Job Corps offices.

While new programs blossomed to take its place in bigger cities like Calgary and Edmonton, that didn’t happen in Lac La Biche.

While Hayward had already reaped the program’s benefits, she’s witnessed how heavily the program loss has affected those who didn’t get the chance. 

“There’s nothing for people to go to. There is no go-to place anymore to try and help them. I don’t even think you can go walk into social services anymore. You have to make an appointment at some office in Edmonton.”

“There’s a lot of people that are probably more lost now. It’s a real shame.”

Couple the loss of local social programs with ever-increasing living costs, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It’s no wonder people are seeing more people needing help and speculating on why it’s happening.

No Consultation

“I think a lot of people are frustrated. They want a quick solution. I know there’s a lot of people that have asked for them to be put in jail, but they forget that homelessness is not a crime – people are allowed to be out in the community,” said Rachelle Lavoie, the Director of Community Services for Bonnyville.

“It takes so much cooperation by so many agencies and multiple municipalities to be able to properly try to tackle this issue,” stated Lavoie.

Karen Rosvold, County of Grande Prairie Councillor and Rural Municipalities of Alberta board member said communities throughout rural Alberta are grappling with the same issues.

“We’ve lost Alberta Supports… anything that is provincially run has been pulled out of the community,” she told the St Albert Gazette.

She said the loss of programs without adequate replacements is due to a lack of local consultation on the part of the provincial government.

“They don’t know what’s going on at Rainbow Lake. They don’t know what’s going on at Pincher Creek or Lac La Biche. They’re making decisions from an office building in Edmonton that have major ramifications across the province,” she said.

“We have to live in our communities. And so we’re talking to people all the time, and it would be wonderful if [the provincial government] would actually talk to us so they can see what’s going on in our communities rather than just making decisions on our behalf.”

The less cooperative talking that takes place, the more gossip starts. 

And that’s how rumours get started with false speculation. 

And rumours don’t help anyone. Rural social services do, and that is not a rumour but a simple fact.

Homeless couple
A houseless couple surviving on the streets | Canva

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