Most of the 40 sites considered for the permanent homeless shelter are in downtown Red Deer, according to previously secret documents released Monday by the city.
A “bubble map,” roughly showing which parts of the city were available for a shelter location, was posted on the city’s website on Monday night, after council unanimously voted to allow citizens into the conversation as to where the homeless shelter should be located.
The deliberately vague map, dotted with blue bubbles representing various sites, was part of a summary of a 250-page document that city councillors had previously discussed in camera meetings over the past two years.
At a March meeting, council decided to change tack and go to more thorough public consultations, allowing Red Deerians to have a direct voice in where the provincially funded project should go.
No specific addresses for the potential lots were revealed, because of privacy concerns. But the map indicated the bulk of the sites considered were located south of the Red Deer River, in a cluster around Gaetz Avenue and the downtown.
A smaller cluster of possible sites for the shelter were considered on the north side of the river, in the Riverside Light Industrial area, near Parkland Mall.
Another cluster of potential sites was shown north of the Pines neighbourhood, along Gaetz Avenue and the commercial/industrial area near the Red Deer Food Bank.
Other possible locations considered were along Gaetz Avenue South, proximate to the Bower neighbourhood, as well as south of Red Deer College and near Westerner Park.
Yet more locations were considered on former Michener land, as well as some sites in Northlands, Edgar, and Golden West Industrial Parks.
Coun. Lawrence Lee predicted that once citizens see this map of considered sites they will understand why council favoured putting the shelter on a somewhat separated city parks lot southeast of the Taylor Bridge in Rail Lands.
This proposal was later taken off the table, due to widespread opposition from the public.
“No matter how much (public) consultation or consideration is given, everybody — including those of us in this room — would be challenged if it goes up next to them,” said Lee.
Most of council agreed that Red Deer needs a permanent shelter to look after its most vulnerable citizens, who would otherwise be sleeping in doorways and in city parks.
Since April 2021, city council held 13 closed meetings to try to determine an appropriate shelter location and service model. The 40 sites were explored with a commercial realtor. Several targeted “community conversations” were also held to better understand citizens’ thoughts on what the shelter should offer and where it should be located.
But after a third-party, Maven Strategies report was presented last month, telling council that many citizens felt they were not being heard by the city, council decided to embark on wider consultations.
On Monday, administration asked for up to four more weeks to bring forward a public consultation strategy, as they needed more clarity from council on what to ask the public.
Coun. Vesna Higham argued this delay was unnecessary as feedback on location and a service model were the main points of public consultation. However, the rest of council voted for the extension. Coun. Kraymer Barnstable felt two more weeks would be adequate as council would discuss consultation questions at an April 19 workshop.
Other council discussions centred around the role of the province and the city in the project.
The shelter is a provincial government endeavour. But councillors heard the $7-million the province promised for building the permanent integrated shelter would not be enough to cover its construction costs. No information was provided to the city about who would cover the shortfall — whether a private partnership or the operating agencies.
Interim city manager Tara Lodewyk assured council that the City of Red Deer would not be on the hook for any of the building costs. Under a Memorandum of Understanding, signed between the municipality and the province, the city would only provide services in kind, such as utility serving, sidewalks and landscaping.
Coun. Michael Dawe cautioned the city must be clear about its role and the provincial role in the shelter project before it puts any questions to the public, or “it could become a very long shoelace for us to trip over.”