As scary as the COVID-19 pandemic is, it has also shown how a community can come together.
Safe Harbour Society executive director Kath Hoffman, staff and volunteers were scrambling on Friday to turn the former Cannery Row Bingo into an overnight daytime and overnight warming centre.
When finished, there will be a dozen or more spaces than the 52 overnight spaces previously available, and better yet, more space to allow for safe social distancing.
“We’re really busy getting that ready today with help from the city. We should be operating there tonight.”
The project could not have come together so quickly without the help of the City of Red Deer — which approved an emergency six-month rezoning — and Alberta Health and Alberta Seniors and Housing, which provided funding.
The effort is an example of innovation on the fly.
“We’re doing like everybody else, adapting our plans as necessary on the fly, as new information comes in. But everybody is working really well together to make sure that we have what we need.”
This is not the first time Hoffman and her staff have had to find ways to protect people during a pandemic. The H1N1 pandemic ran from January 2009 to August 2010.
“We had a new shelter in a week back in those days,” she said.
“This is quite similar. Of course, back then, with H1N1, people were supposed to wash their hands and stay home. But if you’re homeless, you can’t stay home.
“We are familiar with this, and that’s the beauty of a non-profit. We can turn on a dime as long as we’ve got the money.”
Hoffman said the whole community responded to the H1N1 challenge. And the same thing is happening again.
“All of a sudden, there are people ready and willing to help. And boy, it’s a godsend right now. I’m very grateful for the hard work that’s going on.
“People are going crazy, and we’re all going crazy together,” she said with a laugh.
It’s important for people to understand that underneath the chaos of a pandemic, there is an undercurrent of calmness, thoughtfulness and planning.
“That’s a comfort to everybody. It feels good, as a captain, to know that support is out there for us.”