Addressing Red Deer’s crime rate should be a top priority before trying to find a new location for its homeless shelter, says a business owner in Queens Business Park.
Allan Fertig, owner of Allan Dale RVs and Trailers, said crime has been negatively impacting both businesses and residents for too long.
“The homeless situation is definitely a social issue that has no finish line. We’ll be working on it for years and years and years. But first and foremost, the City of Red Deer better deal with some other issues — their crime rate and businesses leaving,” Fertig said.
This week city council voted to move the homeless shelter out of the downtown where residents have complained for years about break-ins, robberies, threats and property crimes.
Some councillors suggested the shelter be relocated to an industrial area and clients be bused to services, as it is done in Calgary.
Fertig agreed that crime has killed the downtown, but crime is also a problem for his business, and the city doesn’t seem to have a plan to fix it.
He said the city also needs to do more to retain and attract business to strengthen the local economy as well as build its tax revenue which does help pay for social services.
“I don’t know what the right answer is. But I do know the City of Red Deer has some statistics they should be addressing — our crime rate, our industrial base, our tax rate, our size,” Fertig said.
Jeff Giesbrecht, Tri-West Security manager, said relocating the homeless shelter to an industrial area is not the answer.
“You’re not going to have sidewalks. You’re not going to have pedestrian crossings. You’re going to have the pedestrians crossing highway traffic potentially. I don’t think that’s a good idea whatsoever,” Giesbrecht said.
Tri-West Security serves its clients in industrial areas where businesses are often the target of break-ins and thefts. But crime is not the first thing he would be worried about if a shelter moved in, he said.
“I would be more concerned about a collision involving a homeless person in an industrial area due to the lack of proper infrastructure, over a homeless person breaking into an industrial business.”
He said shelters need to be located where there are amenities and government services for the homeless, like the downtown, where there is also a faster response time for emergency services.
Jack Donald, long-time Red Deer business owner and philanthropist, said moving the homeless into an industrial area is not the answer.
“I think we should be looking for answers, not just postponing it, or pushing it onto our neighbours,” said Donald, co-owner of Parkland Properties Ltd.
Donald said the city should organize a small task force to come up with ideas and make recommendations. Maybe the empty buildings at Michener Centre could be repurposed as a place to provide training so the homeless can improve their lives. Maybe an effort could be made to reunite them with family. Look at how other cities are addressing the problem.
“I’m glad council has decided to tackle this thing,” Donald said.
Rick More, CEO of Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said homelessness is a huge, frustrating problem everywhere. Unfortunately crime comes along with it, and as a result the downtown has been dying a slow death.
“Something has to be done. (City council) has to make a decision on it. As tough as that is, you have to make some decision, and in politics you’re going to get accolades or the opposite,” More said.
And the chamber will be available to speak for the business community, he said.
“You need perspective from all angles. That’s how you make proper decisions. We’re not always agreeable on everything, but when you throw everything in the cauldron, hopefully you come out with the best answer. It won’t be the right answer for everybody, but those decisions have to be made for the betterment of the city.”