Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce’s announcement that it will assemble a task force to tackle homelessness in Red Deer surprised an Indigenous community agency trying to obtain funding for an affordable housing project.
“I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce is aware of what the city and community are doing. They need to talk to people involved and already working on this, and working collaboratively,” said Raye St. Denys, executive director of Shining Mountains Living Community Services and a member of the city’s housing and homelessness committee.
On Tuesday the chamber announced it will develop a task force of business and community leaders to identify steps to address homelessness because current strategies were not enough.
She said Shining Mountains has provided affordable housing since 1999 and now has 20 units with plans for more. A funding proposal was just sent to the federal government and the decision is expected in June on a plan to purchase the Holiday Inn Express at 2803-50th Ave. and turn it into a 75-unit affordable housing complex.
St. Denys said a large portion of Red Deer’s homeless are Indigenous and the chamber needs to connect with Indigenous people.
“It would be useful on their part to ask us for our expertise.”
Unfortunately, the chamber has not made an effort to respond to previous inquiries from Shining Mountains, she said.
Chamber CEO Scott Robinson said the chamber is not naive to the challenges ahead nor that there are lots of solutions already in place, and wouldn’t say no to working with any group.
“We know there’s a lot of different players involved, a lot of different groups involved in trying to help the community, and we’re going to be open to working with all those groups,” Robinson said.
“It just felt like the right time for us to put our hand up and say we’re here to help. We want to bring the community together around trying to solve some of the challenges we face.”
The catalyst for the chamber’s announcement was the recent release of the City of Red Deer’s Point in Time Report that showed the number of people experiencing homelessness in Red Deer has more than doubled in the last five years.
The 2022 federally-funded, municipally-done survey shows 334 people were experiencing homelessness in the city compared to 144 individuals in 2018.
Mayor Ken Johnston said he appreciates the chamber’s enthusiasm to bring an innovative approach to addressing homelessness, to research and share ideas. The city will provide whatever information it can to assist.
“I feel cheered today that an organization with the reach and profile of our chamber is willing to come in and move this forward. It’s an extremely complex file and to have the chamber jump in and say, ‘Hey, we want to put our shoulder to the wheel here,’ I think is great,” Johnston said.
He said the chamber will bring private sector input that perhaps is missing, or isn’t enough, when it comes to the issue of homelessness in the city.
“We’re all in this for a better Red Deer. We’re in this to create a better environment.”
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