Homelessness the root cause of security issues

People looking for a place to stay and keep warm have found it in a downtown apartment, and it has scared the people who pay to live there.

People looking for a place to stay and keep warm have found it in a downtown apartment, and it has scared the people who pay to live there.

The co-owner of the beleaguered River Valley Apartments, Stan Schalk, said the main issue is homelessness. Tenants aren’t the problem, but instead it is the people getting into the building and occupying the hallways and stairwells.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, who campaigned on a platform of public safety, said a comprehensive strategy is needed where all of the root causes are looked at. She pointed that two per cent of the 3.9 per cent tax increase council approved is specifically allocated to policing and enforcement.

“In direct response to this incident my office has been in touch with the RCMP to determine the appropriate response with respect to what was outlined in the Advocate,” said Veer. “But also to take decisive action and find ongoing strategies to prevent it from happening again on an ongoing basis.”

Some tenants of the downtown Red Deer apartment are afraid to go out at night, and in the morning find used needles, condoms, garbage, blood and feces in their halls and stairwells. At night entrances are jury-rigged so people can come and go as they please and homeless fill the foyer before the security door waiting for someone to open it, letting them in.

The mayor said homelessness is an issue Red Deer has demonstrated strong leadership on.

“Obviously we need to continue to ensure we have adequate, affordable housing stock in the long run,” said Veer.

Winter Inn, an overnight program for homeless people in Red Deer, closed down this winter. In its stead mats were added to the People’s Place, which added 12 mats bringing their total to 35, and Safe Harbour, which added six mats for people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol on top of their normal 20. Safe Harbour also has an additional 20 spots available for emergencies bringing the total to 46.

Veer said right now the Safe Harbour program is running at about 90 to 100 per cent capacity, and have had space in recent nights. People’s Place also has capacity for more mats.

“Additional shelter space helps in the short term in terms of having a safe place, particularly when its cold out, but that’s not an ideal strategy for the community,” said Veer. “What we need is long term, sustainable, affordable housing stock.”

According to statistics from City Hall from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013 503 people received assistance through the provincially run Outreach and Support Services Initiative grant and the federally run Homelessness Partnering Strategy Grant, of which 35 were youths.

“My preference at this point is we have unacceptable behaviour that needs to be enforced,” said Veer. “I think it is important that we take decisive action on that front, those are tools an mechanisms that are available to us right now.

“Obviously it is in the best interest of the community if we work on a broader strategy in the long run to prevent issues like this from happening in the first place. Until we get there we need to respond with the tools and the enforcement mechanisms available to us.”

Veer said she feels confident a robust council discussion on the issue is coming over the next few days.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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