A new state of emergency could be declared in the City of Red Deer this fall — this time not for COVID-19 — but for citizens without shelter as temperatures plunge this fall and winter.
“We know there will be gaps in service” after the temporary homeless shelter in the downtown is shut down on Sept. 30, said Sarah Tittemore, general manager of community services for the city.
While the City of Red Deer doesn’t have direct responsibility for funding or operating a shelter — this falls on the province and Safe Harbour — it has “a 100 per cent moral obligation” to protect the health and welfare of all of its citizens, Tittemore said.
That means if some Red Deerians’ health and welfare are jeopardized, she added, “we will have to take some reactive measures for the protection of public safety.”
One measure could be declaring a local state of emergency if dozens of homeless citizens have no daytime or overnight shelter as temperatures drop, said Tittemore.
Under a state of emergency — which would have to be approved by city council — the government would be empowered to put through policies that it would normally not be permitted to do, for the safety and protection of its citizens.
Tittemore did not want to speculate as to whether this could mean the downtown shelter at the former Cannery Row Bingo site would be ordered to reopen.
But she confirmed that the Cannery location was originally established as a temporary shelter under another state of emergency at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more space was needed for distancing.
Risks will be assessed and appropriate measures taken, she added, including preparing police and emergency service workers for more demand on their services.
“We have flagged the risks as we see them, and there are plans to mitigate them as the situation unfolds.”
Safe Harbour executive director Kath Hoffman previously stated Red Deer’s homelessness problem will not be eased with the shelter’s closure.
After Sept. 30, Safe Harbour will be left with 26 mat sleeping spaces as well as 20 detox spaces on its original downtown site.
The Cannery Row space now has overnight accommodation room for 80 people — which will leave a significant shortage of mat beds, as well as no daytime warming shelter.
“People will be sleeping anywhere warm that will let them in, and there will be more camping,” stated Hoffman.
The city’s administration and Mayor Tara Veer have appealed to council on multiple occasions to extend the zoning of Safe Harbour’s temporary shelter to ensure homeless citizens have a roof over their heads as fall and winter approach.
She also spoke of the unintended consequences of having downtown problems spilling over into other parts of the community.
But the majority of councillors — Buck Buchanan, Lawrence Lee, Vesna Higham, Tanya Handley, Frank Wong and Dianne Wyntjes — opted to turn down the zoning extension application and shut the temporary shelter down in the city’s core, based on complaints from local businesses about crime, litter and loitering.
Councillors Michael Dawe, Ken Johnston and Mayor Veer voted to have a third hearing on extending the downtown zoning.
On Wednesday, Veer said time is of the essence to come up with a viable Plan B if the shelter can’t be relocated before it closes. She stressed the city has an “ethical imperative” to ensure its most vulnerable citizens can access a basic human right — shelter — before the cold weather hits.
One option will be presented to council at the end of August — a report about whether suitable land can be purchased for shelter services outside the downtown.
The City of Red Deer is seeking to buy a property for the eventual construction of a permanent homeless shelter, and Coun. Wong has previously suggested bringing ATCO trailers onto this site in the meantime for a temporary shelter.
But Tittemore believes it’s unlikely that land can be purchased and shelter trailers established before Sept. 30.