Supporters of the proposed Dream Centre for addictions treatment rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday, hoisting signs stating “People are dying” and “We need this.”
Many of the same supporters, wearing lapel stickers in support of the faith-based addictions treatment centre, were later among 150 people to fill council chambers, as well as an overflow room, to hear an appeal hearing for the project.
Tuesday’s hearing was initiated by proponents of the Dream Centre after the project was denied to open in the former Lotus nightclub on Little Gaetz Avenue by the Red Deer municipal planning commission on Oct. 16.
Red Deer Dream Centre co-chair Wes Giesbrecht told the board the troubled downtown needs an addictions treatment centre, and he spoke of the poetic irony of having the centre operating on the same block as bars, where some of the addictions likely started.
”You can’t help stumble over problems (in the downtown),” Giesbrecht said, but “we want to inject some hope … be a catalyst for change.”
Giesbrecht noted Dream Centres in Calgary and other communities have an 86 per cent success rate with addicts who remain in the program for six months or more, including going on to live in transitional housing.
There’s nothing else like the Dream Centre in the city, said Giesbrecht, so how could the downtown be oversaturated with similar agencies?
Christopher Rickards, a lawyer speaking for several downtown businesses, the Downtown Business Association and Sierras of Taylor condo residents, said nobody disagrees with the need for a centre — just the proposed site.
Rickards argued that if the Dream Centre is allowed to locate at 4614 50th Ave., it would be incompatible with surrounding bar businesses, “its closest neighbours.”
If an addictions treatment centre was the first to open on the street, would the city allow a bunch of bars to crop up directly around it, questioned Rickards. If not, then why should the opposite be allowed to happen, added the lawyer.
Rickards feels the greatest risk to the downtown lies in the perception of the rest of the community, so adding yet another social service presence to the city’s core will “feed the rhetoric” and “destablize the downtown as a business hub.”
City staff cited several other areas of the city in which a social institution, such as a treatment centre, could locate, including Bremner Avenue, near the downtown McDonalds, along Taylor Drive and Howard Street, and Clearview Market Square.
As in previous municipal planning commission hearings for the project, a long series of mostly faith-based speakers spent several hours urging that it be approved.
Recovering addict Cameron Brown underlined the need for a local treatment centre by speaking about going through the Red Deer detox program several times, but then relapsing when he had trouble getting into out-of-town treatment centres.
Clarence Torgerson, a downtown businessman who’s been affected by vagrants and crime, believes the Dream Centre is a better solution than a needle program, and said he’s willing to give it a try.
But downtown resident Vicki Swainson, of the Sierras on Taylor, is not so willing. She said similar promises about helping cleaning up the downtown were made when the Buffalo transitional housing project was proposed, but downtown businesses saw an adverse affect within a month of it opening.
People want to come downtown for cultural activities and to shop — a proliferation of social service agencies is not an attraction, opponents argued.
Red Deer’s subdivision and development appeal board has 15 days to provide a written decision on the project.