Cleaning up homeless camps and needle debris will cost Red Deer taxpayers nearly $400,000 this year.
“When I think of what that money could do to house people,” said Coun. Tanya Handley, instead of being used to “chase people” out of the parks system and pick up used needles to preserve public safety.
Handley believes these funds could go towards “better things,” if the province would provide Red Deer with the 24/7 shelter that had been promised before governments changed in the last provincial election.
As of last August, there was a 42-person long wait list to get into transitional housing. “Getting them into a shelter is the first step, and then into proper housing,” Handley added.
City Manager Allan Seabrooke confirmed that the city is continuing to lobby the province for a shelter — and for more of a financial contribution towards the needle clean-up costs.
While the province doesn’t pay anything towards the removal of homeless camps in the woods, it does give the city $80,000 a year towards the needle clean-up. But Seabrooke said this isn’t nearly enough.
A total of $397,300 was requested from various city departments to cover the camp and needle clean up bill.
The Community Services department provided part of this amount when its budget was approved by city council on Thursday.
One item that was cut from the budget was a $100,000 new Community Services Master Plan.
While many councillors consider the department — which contains social planning, transit and parks, recreation and culture — the most impactful on local residents, the majority did not think the economic climate was right for another large-scale review.
Noting the city spent money asking for recent public input on ice surfaces, sports fields, the transit department — and council this week approved a value-for-money audit of the parks, recreation and culture department — “I will not support this item,” said Coun. Ken Johnston, summarizing a common sentiment.
The group Volunteer Central received another reprieve from city council when $120,000 of bridge funding was approved in the hope the group can find other funding sources and become sustainable over the next year.
While Coun. Vesna Higham attempted to remove this money from the budget due to lean times out of fairness to other groups, other members of council did not want to see an organization that musters volunteers fold after it successfully found 5,000 people to help with the Canada Winter Games.
“We pride ourselves as a volunteer city,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes.
Council asked Community Services staff to help the Volunteer Central better market itself to qualify for various grant programs — or for Games legacy funds, once a criteria is established for applicants.
“We do appreciate the robust debate and council’s support for volunteers,” said the group’s chair Kay Kenny. But she noted it’s a very tough time to be seeing funding.