Downtown Red Deer needs a daytime shelter for transient people, an addictions treatment centre, and more police enforcement to allow businesses and patrons to feel safer.
These were some solutions proposed at a meeting addressing concerns about the city’s core, arranged by the Downtown Business Association Wednesday.
Representatives from 20 commercial establishments, as well as city council and police, attended.
A group that didn’t have a chance to speak was Turning Point, which dispenses clean needles to drug users and will be operating a portable overdose prevention site in the city near Safe Harbour.
Amanda Gould, director of the Downtown Business Association, said social service agencies were not invited to the gathering because their presence would have kept some business people from speaking freely about their concerns.
“It’s important to confront the brutal facts,” added Gould, who feels this wouldn’t have happened if merchants felt guilty about not being empathetic enough to the people causing problems for them.
People at the meeting spoke of feeling intimidated by large groups of homeless and or addicted people who give off an aggressive vibe, she said. There was also talk about customers being driven away by transient people loitering in front of businesses with shopping carts.
Gould said there’s a general sense the downtown problem has gotten worse over the past year — possibly because of the opioid crisis.
But she feels helpful discussions are now happening between downtown businesses, the city and police, so she’s optimistic solutions will be found.
Gould noted a lot of support was expressed for opening a daytime shelter, so the homeless people would have a place to go during the day.
City Coun. Vesna Higham left the meeting with the belief the most immediate answer is to get the four-officer downtown police unit up and running. She heard all four officers who were expected this month now won’t be on the job until the end of October.
Since these positions were approved by city council at January budget talks, the delay is “frustrating,” said Higham, who will be asking city council to consider reallocating more community peace officers to help out downtown.
But the proposed shelter space, as well as more mental health resources and an addiction treatment centre, hang on the provincial government funding these resources, said Higham, who sees these as medium and longer-term solutions.
“The province needs to step up and realize Red Deer has a real need,” she added.