Nearly a year after Premier Jason Kenney announced $7 million for a 24/7 emergency shelter for Red Deer, little is known about the scope or timelines for this “top priority” project.
Despite numerous queries from the Advocate, no updates are being provided about how many beds will be created, what kind of day-use space will be built, where the location would be, or when construction is expected to start.
Mayor Tara Veer said Wednesday, “specifics around the scope, location and timeline for this project have not yet been determined by the province.”
The city has been working on a memorandum of understanding with the government over the past few months, “which we hope the province will finalize in the coming weeks,” added the mayor.
This agreement will provide “role clarity” and outline “general community outcomes for this much needed provincial project for our community,” said Veer.
Jerry Bellikka, spokesperson for Alberta Community and Social Services, confirmed last week the government’s commitment of $7 million in the Feb. 27, 2020 provincial Capital Plan for “a much needed permanent solution for shelter spaces in the city.”
Bellikka said the province is working with city officials and stakeholders to determine the shelter’s design, and site selection will move ahead once that work is completed.
“We will continue to work with shelters and other homeless serving organizations to address challenges and prioritize services for people with the most critical needs,” Bellikka added.
In the past few years, a 24/7 shelter was cited by Red Deer city council as a “top priority” need for Red Deer.
The mayor has repeatedly stated the City of Red Deer has the fewest per capita shelter spaces in the province. Due to the opioid crisis and a growing homeless population, she said this city has seen “social disorder spill over into the parks and downtown.”
In January 202o, Coun. Tanya Handley bemoaned spending $400,000 a year to clean up homeless debris from the parks and trails.
“When I think of what that money could do to house people,” said Handley — instead of being used to “chase people” out of the parks system and pick up used needles to preserve public safety.
Handley mentioned the need for a 24/7 shelter, which had been promised to the city before governments changed in the last provincial election.
In March 2019, former NDP Minister of Community and Social Services, Irfan Sabir pledged $7-million dollars for the construction of a 120-bed, 24-hour shelter in Red Deer for people experiencing homelessness and addictions.
“We heard loud and clear that Red Deer urgently needs more shelter space,” Sabir stated at a press conference with city councillors and the mayor at City Hall.
The mayor stated, “This allocation of funding…will go a long way to meet the safety needs of Red Deer’s most vulnerable citizens.”
When the NDP lost the election the 2019 election a month later, shelter plans were shelved — only to be revived last February by the incoming UCP government.
Premier Kenney pledged to go ahead with building the integrated 24/7 homeless shelter last February — and this was celebrated by downtown business owners, as well as advocates who had been helping homeless people with inadequate resources.
“This is so good for the community,” Kath Hoffman, executive-director of Safe Harbour Society stated. “It’s been needed for a long time.” Hoffman added that she looks forward to finding out more details of the project.
Nearly a year later, those details are not yet available for the public as the project hasn’t made much progress.