Red Deer has a serious shortage of shelter beds — but they can’t be installed in the former Valley Park Manor nursing home, says a city manager.
“It’s absolutely not an option to house people in there,” said Tricia Hercina, social planning manager for the City of Red Deer, after numerous people suggested on Facebook turning the facility that’s been shut for a decade into a homeless shelter.
Several residents felt the empty nursing home in Riverside Meadows would be a better place for people to spend the winter than the “tent cities” routinely torn down by city workers along parks and trails.
“Use it for the homeless and needy, we’re already paying for it,” said Bert Wever on the Advocate’s Facebook page.
He was referred to Mayor Tara Veer’s concern $100,000 was being spent annually by Alberta taxpayers on mothballing this building since it was permanently shut down by the province in 2010.
Veer complained this derelict building was attracting squatters and illicit activity. The mayor has discussed these concerns with the provincial government and asked the facility either be redeveloped or torn down.
Hercina said the unused nursing home was toured some years ago and found inappropriate for habitation. She believes it contains asbestos, and it also has an inadequate mechanical system.
Meanwhile, Red Deer has a list of nearly 50 people waiting to get into transitional housing. It also has far fewer shelter beds than other communities of its size.
“We need all sorts of housing inventory” — from more shelter spots to additional supportive housing, to more affordable housing, said Hercina.
As for shelter beds, she noted about 125 spaces are operational year-round, with about 25 more opening temporarily in the cold months.
But Hercina added this city could use up to 200 shelter spots for people in various situations, including women and families, sober people and those who are using drugs or alcohol.
Red Deer’s need for a new homeless shelter was acknowledged this past spring by the former New Democrat government, which pledged $7 million to build a 120-bed 24/7 shelter that was to be completed by the end of 2020.
Mayor Veer had expressed hope at the time this new shelter would help eliminate the rough sleeper camps in parks.
“A 24/7 shelter is one of Red Deer’s most critical social infrastructure needs,” she stated in March.
Although Alberta’s former Social Services minister, Irfan Sabir, had touted the new shelter as a place where people with complex issues can be referred to programs that would help get them into permanent housing, nothing has been said about this project since the UCP defeated the NDP in an election this past spring, said Hercina.
Like many other Albertans, she’s waiting to see whether there is any funding for a new shelter in the Oct. 24 provincial budget.