The majority of city councillors shot down a recommendation to allow the temporary shelter to remain at Cannery Row beyond Sept. 30 — despite a last-minute appeal by Mayor Tara Veer.
Instead, most councillors accepted a suggestion by Coun. Frank Wong to direct administration to investigate buying a piece of land that the permanent shelter could eventually be built on — and moving used ATCO trailers onto the site in the meantime for use as a temporary shelter.
Veer had previously cautioned council that the unintended consequence of not extending the Cannery Row lease beyond Sept. 30 could mean that there would be more people sleeping in the parks this winter, without adequate overnight shelter or daytime warming shelter.
Allowing the temporary shelter to remain downtown for longer is not ideal, but city workers have tried to find a solution three times and could not find a leased site, Veer added.
With no local landowners prepared to lease a site for a temporary homeless shelter, city council had three choices — to extend the operation of the temporary shelter at Cannery Row beyond Sept. 30; put up money to buy a space for a temporary shelter; or have no Safe Harbour shelter as of Oct. 1.
The latter two choices were not recommended by administration. Council was told buying a large enough space for a temporary shelter would cost about $2 million and no additional money would be available from government to do the needed renovations. Councillors heard this cost would not be worthwhile, considering that a permanent shelter is expected to open in one to three years.
Having no Safe Harbour shelter as of Oct. 1 — when 80 per cent of homeless people in Red Deer who use shelter space use that facility — could have dire consequences for the city, according to a report to council.
Sarah Tittemore, general manager of community services, told council there could be more rough sleeper camps in parks and trails, more people sleeping in business lobbies or the streets, and more police and emergency services calls.
With or without the shelter, homeless people still need to use washrooms, have a place to sleep, and shower, they need to do their laundry and find places to spend their daytime hours, said Ryan Veldkamp, housing and homelessness supports supervisor for the city.
Council heard more than double the clients (111 people) use daytime shelter facilities than the 46 overnight visits.
On National Indigenous Peoples Day, Monday, Coun. Ken Johnston asked other councillors to consider that Indigenous people make up 2.5 per cent of the city’s population but 40 per cent of the city’s homeless population.
As a local elder said earlier in the council meeting, it’s time “to open our eyes, ears and minds with caring… if we truly are committed to the relationships with reconciliation,” then Johnston said allowing the temporary shelter to keep operating is the interim answer.
But agreeing to keep the shelter at Cannery Row was a tough call for the majority of councillors.
“I am so frustrated right now, and so disappointed,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee, who feels caught between undesirable consequences. “There is nothing changing in our downtown to shift our direction.”
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said she could support keeping the Cannery Row temporary shelter going until the spring. But she said this feels it would be a reversal of her previous position of sympathizing with surrounding businesses and wanting the shelter out of the downtown.
Kristin Walsh, safe and healthy communities manager for the city, told council that more efforts have been made in recent weeks to mitigate some of the social disorder and crime around the shelter.
But most councillors felt they didn’t see enough evidence of change that they could support the extension of shelter operations at Cannery Row.
“It grieves me,” said Coun. Vesna Higham, that she doesn’t see “a real concerted commitment” from Safe Harbour to make a difference to the surrounding neighbourhood.”
If business owners need to put up with having a temporary homeless shelter at Cannery Row for three years, shelter operators have to start tracking where clients come from — here or B.C.? — and set expectations, such as getting them to pick up garbage in exchange for using the shelter, Higham added. “The status quo cannot continue.”
Coun. Buck Buchanan said used oilfield trailers can be bought for $40,000 and adapted into shelter space. He suggested that council focus on finding a permanent shelter site and not “putting a band-aid on things” by keeping the shelter downtown. “Right now we’re not helping people, we are just warehousing people and hoping they don’t die, and that is not acceptable.”
The motion to add an ATCO trailer to land that was suggested by Wong was approved. Only Councillors Johnston and Lee opposed the idea (Coun. Michael Dawe was absent from the meeting).
Administration was asked to bring a report back to council on information about purchasing a site.