Relocating a homeless shelter to the edge of Red Deer, like an industrial park, would have the same impact as moving anybody else’s home to an isolated area, says Mustard Seed’s managing director for central Alberta.
“Just like people who have homes need access to medical supports, to basic necessities like groceries, to emergency services close by, so do people experiencing homelessness and poverty,” Byron Bradley said.
“You would be much further from a walk-in clinic. You’d be much further from a pharmacy. You’d be much further from a park.”
It would even be worse for those who are homeless and without a vehicle, compared to someone employed with a steady income, he said.
Red Deerians have been anxiously waiting for details about a location for the integrated shelter planned for the city.
Based on input from businesses and families, Red Deer MLAs recently recommended to city council that shelters and soup kitchens be relocated out of residential neighbourhoods.
The MLAs also said shelter for people using substances, and the sober shelter, should be located near each other to reduce issues to the community.
Mustard Seed runs a 46-bed sober shelter, soup kitchen and health centre in Riverside Meadows, and Bradley doesn’t foresee the Mustard Seed moving.
“There might be the opportunity to expand into another location. We would definitely be open to transitioning some of our services to another location, then we could focus more on the broader community supports, like health and wellness, counselling, health care, the school lunch program.”
Last year during the pandemic, there were 3,353 visits to health and wellness workers at Mustard Seed. People either accessed services there, or had help finding the right support elsewhere.
“We’re at the point where we’re very near capacity for the programs and services we have at our current site.”
The charity is also still very interested in building, or acquiring a location, to provide affordable housing.
Bradley said Mustard Seed has been part of the collaborative process with the city, Safe Harbour Society, and others to develop the integrated shelter plan. Unfortunately, the process has taken longer than expected, and he hoped a solid plan would be in place before the end of the year.
He said the primary concern for the charity is to have a distinct, sober, shelter environment as part of the project. It might work to have it near the shelter for people who use substances, but it’s important that the shelters be in a central location.
“We need to be able to care for our most vulnerable here in Red Deer. The struggles of the vulnerable will never go away. Together we can find the solution.”
Bradley said crime is a fair concern when it comes to shelters. Citizens should feel safe, and Mustard Seed has transformed its site since taking it over almost five years ago.
“When we came into this property there was a lot of loitering. There was a lot of illegal activity around the building. The great folks at Loaves and Fishes had their hands full.”
A no-loitering policy was put in place, lights and cameras were installed in the parking lot, and there’s a secure, fenced space for shelter clients to smoke at night.
“We very rarely have to call police to come to our property.”
And there’s a good relationship with neighbouring businesses, he said.
“It’s not easy being a neighbour to an organization that attracts lots of people, period. When there are people with some behavioural issues, or whatever, it takes a lot of hard work at building relationships with your neighbours. That is something we take very seriously.”