Can the province help bridge the widening gulf between Red Deer’s business community and the agencies serving homeless and addicted people, wondered Red Deer Coun. Buck Buchanan.
Speaking at the AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) conference in Red Deer on Thursday, Buchanan told Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman that a polarized atmosphere has developed in the city between those who empathize with addicted people and those who see them as causing downtown degradation, needle debris and crime.
“We’ve got our businesses at one end, that kind of have the mentality ‘oh my god, hang ‘em high,’ …and we’ve got our social agencies at the other of the spectrum, (going) ‘oh, we’re going to save everyone”… There seems to be a real division between the two,” said Buchanan during a question-and-answer period with several ministers.
”Is there any plan to try to move them closer together?”
Hoffman responded that a task force was created to look at Red Deer’s opioid problem since the city has the highest overdose death rate in the province. The task force’s role was to ask community members how to best save lives, “I’m sure there’s no one in Red Deer who wants to see people die.”
The consensus was to open a temporary overdose prevention centre near the city’s homeless shelter, said Hoffman, who added it’s important “to work with the community.”
Buchanan doesn’t believe many business people were on that task force. He later said he didn’t feel the minister’s response addressed his question of how to bring two opposing groups of people together.
Other Red Deer city councillors also took the microphone to question Hoffman.
Coun. Ken Johnston asked why a local hospital expansion isn’t on the province’s capital funding list, and why Red Deer hospital doesn’t offer cardiac catheterization, even though it serves a region of 400,000 people?
The minister responded with a list of the government’s investments in Red Deer, including a new courthouse project, and Hwy 2 interchange. “Someone from Lethbridge might ask the same question, for I know they also have cardiac needs,” said Hoffman.
She noted the province is completing a provincial cardiac study and has also put aside money for a study into Red Deer hospital’s needs, and can’t proceed before results are known.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes wondered why the name for safe consumption site has now seemingly morphed into overdose prevention site?
Hoffman said the temporary site (trailer) is known as an overdose prevention site because it doesn’t have the same connection to extended services as a permanent safe consumption site will, once a acceptable location is chosen in Red Deer.