A third public hearing will not be held on extending the stay of Safe Harbour’s temporary homeless shelter in Red Deer’s downtown, city council determined on Tuesday.
In an emotional 6-3 split, the majority of councillors effectively shut down an attempt by Safe Harbour to present its own application to remain at the former Cannery Row Bingo site past Sept. 30.
By denying first reading to Safe Harbour’s proposal, the majority of councillors decided to forgo having a third public hearing held what is essentially the same issue.
Public hearing “fatigue” was cited, as well as the difficulty some councillors would have in keeping an open mind after twice before hearing drawn out public commentary and debate.
“I do not believe a technicality is a reason to reignite a very divisive, a very emotional, very controversial issue,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee.
He was referring to the fact a third hearing was only under consideration because Safe Harbour’s case had been put forward at two previous hearing by city administration.
The non-profit had finally filed its own application, intending to argue that more garbage pickup and better collaboration with other agencies had recent improved the downtown situation.
But Coun. Vesna Higham felt there wasn’t enough substantial difference in Safe Harbour’s application to subject downtown citizens to a third hearing, when so many people have already spoken on both sides of the issue.
“Not much has changed — it’s a bit better with garbage (pick-up),” Higham added, but crime and vagrancy continue to be ongoing issues.
Coun. Ken Johnston had emotionally tried to sway council by arguing that councillors had a legal and moral responsibility to let Safe Harbour have its case heard.
While no one looks forward to a third hearing on essentially the same issue, “it is the right thing to do” to allow Safe Harbour have a last word, agreed Coun. Michael Dawe.
Mayor Tara Veer also tried to prevail on other councillors to allow the third hearing, saying no other location has yet been found for the shelter’s relocation. Veer worried about the “spillover” effect on the downtown and city’s parks if homeless clients lose their daytime warming shelter, as well as storage and washroom facilities.
But other councillors — including Buck Buchanan, Tanya Handley, Dianne Wyntjes and Frank Wong — could not be prevailed upon to allow the third public hearing.
“Nothing changes if nothing changes, said Buchanan, who noted the public has spoken “loud and clear” at two previous hearings about social disorder, crime and loitering and these cumulative effects on the downtown.
In the two previous hearings, the city’s administration had recommended that the shelter be allowed to remain downtown until a permanent shelter is built in two to three years time.
But in both hearings council determined the temporary shelter would have to relocate outside of the city’s core — even though no other property owner could be found to rent to the homeless shelter.
Administration is now seeking land that can be purchased for a temporary shelter, with an eye towards making it the permanent shelter site in future.
A report on this is to be brought back to council on Aug. 24.
Safe Harbour representatives could not be reached for comment on the decision on Tuesday evening.