Safe Harbour Society executive-director Kath Hoffman said she’s devastated that the temporary shelter at the former Cannery Row Bingo location will have to close on Sept. 30. (Image captured from Facebook)

Safe Harbour Society executive-director Kath Hoffman said she’s devastated that the temporary shelter at the former Cannery Row Bingo location will have to close on Sept. 30. (Image captured from Facebook)

Homelessness problems in downtown Red Deer will worsen when temporary shelter closes, warns director

People will sleep wherever it’s warm, says Kath Hoffman

More homeless people will be wandering around downtown Red Deer, sleeping in doorways and defecating in alleyways, after the Sept. 30 closure of the temporary homeless shelter, predicts Safe Harbour’s executive director.

On Thursday, a devastated Kath Hoffman reacted to city council’s recent decision to not allow a third public hearing on prolonging temporary shelter operations in the downtown by saying, “I never thought this is where we would be…”

“We went for years holding our breath to make sure (we get to) where we don’t have to turn anybody away,” she explained — and now the shelter is about to lose most of its sleeping spaces, as well as daytime warming space, bathroom and showers.

A majority of councillors reacted to business owners’ concerns about crime and vagrancy, saying they wanted to see some positive change by preventing temporary shelter operations in the downtown.

Hoffman believes changes will be noticeable once the shelter in the former Cannery Row Bingo site closes at the end of September — but not the kind that council is seeking.

“People will be sleeping anywhere warm that will let them in, and there will be more camping,” said Hoffman — but no more access to washrooms, laundry or storage areas.

She commended Mayor Tara Veer for trying to warn other councillors about the unintended consequences of closing the temporary shelter before other measures are put in place.

Hoffman believes the city’s enhanced garbage pick up program — which is linked to the former Cannery Row shelter operations — could also cease, leaving more messes that downtown businesses have been complaining about.

Safe Harbour will only have 20 detox spaces and 26 mat sleeping spaces on its own site after the nearby Cannery Row temporary shelter closes on Sept. 30.

The Cannery Row space now has room for 80 people overnight, which will leave a shortage of mat beds.

Hoffman called council’s decision a major setback for Safe Harbour, as well as the city. The situation could be dire with Safe Harbour unable to accommodate all of the homeless clients who need a roof over their heads when temperatures fall below freezing.

Hoffman, who’s had to lay off about 30 shelter workers, is preparing her remaining staff for a return to the reality of having to turn people away on cold nights because there’s no more spaces available.

Although several solutions were suggested by city councillors, she doesn’t think any alternatives can be put in place for at least six months.

Coun. Frank Wong suggested bringing more ATCO trailers onto Safe Harbour’s property — which is less than a block away from Cannery Row — to expand sleeping capacity.

Hoffman said this would require another public hearing since the shelter is only zoned for 46 sleeping spaces.

City administration is now looking for a property outside the downtown that can be purchased to hold trailers for a temporary shelter in the shorter term, and eventually house the permanent homeless shelter when it’s built in two to three years.

A report on this is coming back to council on Aug. 24.

Council already heard no local landlords, aside from owners of the former Cannery Row site, want to rent to Safe Harbour.

Hoffman is saddened and perplexed by the whole situation, wondering if it’s become a “political game” during an election year. “When did we become the bad guys?” she added, noting many health experts praised the shelter’s work and spoke up for keeping it downtown in previous public hearings.

Red Deer will have a homelessness problem, regardless of whether the temporary shelter is allowed to operate, she added. “We just wanted to help people.”

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