The Canadian Mental Health Association has received city approval to move its supportive housing program from the old Buffalo Hotel to the former Econo Lodge at the south edge of downtown.
For 12 years, the aging Buffalo has provided permanent supportive accommodations using the housing-first model, which moves people with a history of homelessness or addiction off the street and into their own apartments.
Wednesday, the city’s municipal planning commission unanimously approved the redevelopment of the motel, which will increase the number of tenants by nine to 48.
Christine Stewart, executive director of the association’s central Alberta region, said the new location is perfect, and the commission seemed to agree.
“I think it really speaks to the work we’ve done as a community on the need for affordable housing in general. I really feel the committee members spoke to that, and spoke to the understanding to do more,” Stewart said.
The former motel, at 4124 50th Ave., is owned by a local business group. The association will lease the building and operate the program with staff on site 24/7.
The facility will include a locked, fenced, covered exterior corridor around the building that will connect to a secure courtyard. Access to the facility will be through a front door with a security camera and buzzer.
“Our tenants are not homeless. There’s a lot of reference to homeless people who are creating issues in the community, but our tenants have a place to live. They have a home. They pay rent,” Stewart said.
One of the nearby businesses wrote a letter to the commission objecting to the development, fearing a worsening of crime in the area.
Stewart said there is already a significant number of people sleeping in the trees behind the motel.
“So now with our presence, and 24/7 monitoring and cameras in place, I think we’ll be better equipped to handle any crisis or direct people to services as needed.”
A chain-link fence, topped with razor wire, will be installed at the back of the property.
Stewart said with about 80 people waiting for housing, more facilities are needed in Red Deer.
“There’s a large number of people that we’ve tried to house in scattered site apartments that just aren’t successful due to things like guest management and maybe some more extreme mental illness that causes public disturbances.
“With staffing support, they can maintain that housing. But we only have the one building. I feel that we need at least two more to successfully house everyone and get people off the street.”