Businesses in downtown Red Deer are taking a beating from crime and social problems, said Sunworks owner Paul Harris, who supports a grassroots movement seeking solutions.
The website, standup-now.ca, was activated on Wednesday and already has more than 800 names of supporters. These people are “fed up” with Red Deer’s overdose deaths, needle debris, homelessness, drug use and stray shopping carts.
The Stand Up for a Safe Community website is demanding “taking action NOW” by building a 24/7 shelter place for people who are actively using (drugs) in public spaces.
Under the proposal, drug users would be able to sleep in the facility, spend their daytime hours in the warm setting, and have access to services such as a supervised drug consumption site. They would be able to store their belongings there, and have opportunities for counselling and other health services.
Harris, who’s lost customers, as well as property — including security cameras — to criminal activity, calls these “urgent times” and believes only through a collective focus on the problem can headway be made.
The website invites all community members to sign up — from property owners who are concerned about their land values slipping, to parents worried about their children or about needle debris, to political leaders with concerned constituents, to business owners who want to keep customers.
Harris hopes concerned politicians, city workers and councillors will also add their names to the list.
He and Cindy Jefferies (another former city councillor who also supports the website), believe the city’s actions — including providing a clean-up program for needle debris and rough sleeper camps — don’t go far enough.
Harris wonders why council keeps waiting for the province to come up with money for shelters or drug treatment. “This is our city,” he said, so the municipality should make an investment in it.
“There’s no point saying ‘this isn’t our jurisdiction,’” if nobody else is stepping up, he added. Harris believes some tax money would be well spent in creating a healthier, cleaner, more livable city for all residents.
Jefferies noted Red Deer does not have adequate housing options for people on drugs: The limited mat shelter beds are too few, and there’s no day-time shelter where they can warm up and get some positive influences steering them towards help.
“We are focusing on needles and shopping carts, but what about the people?” Jefferies added, noting every drug addict is someone’s sister, brother, mother, father, son or daughter.