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Everybody wants a Red Deer drug treatment centre, but downtown location remains a sticking point

Opinions are aired at Wednesday’s development permit hearing for the Dream Centre
Wes Giesbrecht, co-chair of the proposed Red Deer Dream Centre, answers questions from members of the Municipal Planning Commission. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

More than 50 people filled Red Deer city council chamber and spilled into another room for a municipal planning commission hearing for a proposal to turn a downtown nightclub into a treatment centre.

Former drug users, pastors and support workers spoke of the struggle to conquer debilitating addictions, and of how much Red Deer needs the Dream Centre that’s proposed for the former Lotus nightclub at 4614-50 Ave.

“This is a glorious opportunity,” said Pastor Alvin Rainville, of Potter’s Hands Ministries, who suggested a less desirable business might move into the Lotus if this project doesn’t go ahead.

“What is going on right now (with drug abuse and discarded needles) is just going to get worse” if the centre isn’t approved, he predicted.

While no one disagreed with the need for a local residential drug treatment centre at Wednesday’s hearing, downtown business owners and residents made a case for why the city’s centre was not the location for it.

An emotional appeal was made by Lorna Watkinson-Zimmerman, owner of Comforts the Sole store, who said the downtown is already saturated with social service agencies, soup kitchens, transitional housing projects and thrift stores. This could be the tipping point, she said, noting the vitality of the city’s core and its tax revenues are at stake.

Downtown bar owner Kildy Li agreed that the former Lotus site isn’t the right location, noting it’s surrounded by taverns, strip clubs, and other “temptations” to the treatment centre’s clients, he added.

Senior residents of the Sierras on Taylor sent 100 letters stating that having the Dream Centre only blocks away would increase the stigma against the city’s core, which is already full of social problems.

The residents’ representative, Vicki Swainson, said Calgary Dream Centre is not located in the downtown — so why should Red Deer’s? She suggested Michener Hill — where a youth treatment centre is already being built — as a more appropriate location.

Related: Here is what’s being proposed

But pressing arguments were also made for getting a centre built now in the spot where it is most needed.

Wes Giesbrecht, co-chair of the group behind the Red Deer Dream Centre, said he’d like to “to shine a light into the darkness” of Red Deer’s troubled downtown, and throw a lifeline to addicts who are causing social issues and crime.

His group proposes adding a third storey to the former nightclub. The facility would have 16 treatment units with the overall capacity to treat 48 individuals at a time for seven-week periods.

Giesbrecht feels it’s a matter of meeting these addicted people where they are, not relying on them to cross town to a less accessible location. He believes the downtown’s problems can only lessen as the numbers of addicted people are reduced.

Physician Dr. Michael Mulholland noted the province has just announced funding for 4,000 drug and alcohol treatment spots. He urged local residents to get on board with the Dream Centre, to cash in on a portion of the funding, or risk losing it to other centres.

Robin McDonald, a worker with Safe Harbour Society, feels there will never be a perfect spot found for such a project. She asked residents to “check your hearts” and decide what’s most important to the community.

A local treatment centre would give hope to hundreds of families, added McDonald, who feels it’s time for Red Deer to stop “pawning off” its social problems to centres and helping its citizens.

Most of the people who spoke at the hearing supported the proposal — and McDonald summarized the general sentiment by noting that nobody else has come forward with a better place or a better treatment project.

Since public feedback filled most of the four-hour time allotment for the hearing, Red Deer’s municipal planning commission has tabled further discussions, as well as making a decision on the matter, to Oct. 16.

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