Homelessness in Red Deer has exponentially increased with addictions and mental health and disorders. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Homelessness in Red Deer has exponentially increased with addictions and mental health and disorders. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Permanent housing desperately needed for vulnerable population in Red Deer

Safe Harbour says 15 people died in recent few weeks, many waiting on permanent, supported housing

Mel Gauvreau is simply at a loss.

Gauvreau has served as the coordinated entry specialist at Safe Harbour for nearly four years, helping those experiencing homelessness in Red Deer to find a permanent home and, overall, has been with the organization since 2014.

This week hit especially hard, as the organization held a sharing circle on Thursday, mourning the loss of 15 individuals who passed away in recent weeks.

“Their lives are valuable. I’m at this point where I don’t know which doors to bang on anymore,” she said.

Gauvreau acknowledged that a number of those people who died were battling severe mental health and addiction issues, while also waiting for a permanent, supported living situation. She said one of her clients who recently passed over the weekend had been waiting nearly three years for permanent, supported living.

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The problem she says, is there simply aren’t enough spaces to house those people who are struggling in the city beyond a temporary basis. The Amethyst House, operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association in downtown Red Deer, has room for 48 individuals and has been at capacity for some time. It houses people who are experiencing chronic homelessness and have complex mental health needs. The Pathways to Housing program also provides about 14 spaces for those individuals with complex needs.

Gauvreau explained that there are at least 100 people that Safe Harbour knows of that would benefit from a similar type of program, but there isn’t any other option at this time.

“Red Deer severely lacks the programming that these folks need,” she said.

“Homelessness in Red Deer has exponentially increased with addictions and mental health and disorders. Because these people don’t have anywhere to live. We try out best to match them programs that can find housing in the community.”

Kristin Walsh, Manager for Safe and Health Communities for the City of Red Deer acknowledged that there is plenty of work left to help solve this problem.

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She said from the Community Housing and Homelessness Integrated Plan report in 2019, the city found about 70 per cent of people without homes can have their housing needs addressed by a shelter, where they stay on average less than 30 days. Still, there are a lot of people that experience chronic homelessness in the city and have complex issues that tend to lead to a stay of more than 180 days in a shelter.

“Those supports that are needed for those really highly complex and chronically homeless individuals is a significant issue for our Red Deer housing support system,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the report recognizes they need 139 spaces for those people and as of now, there are about 62 spaces in the city.

“That’s really having a big impact on our homelessness situation,” Walsh added.

“That lack of permanent, supportive housing creates a bottleneck and we’re unable to try and find spaces for those really highly complex needs, for something suitable for them to move into. It’s definitely a concern and something we’re looking to move the dial on a little bit.”

The city also established a new group called the Housing and Homelessness Integration Committee in January. They’ve been given some direction to find options for more permanent, supportive living solutions in the city.

While the city has also worked to preserve the temporary shelter for now, Gauvreau noted that’s simply a band-aid for the problem and without more support, she’s worried about what will happen to her clients.

“Without housing, you can’t work on addiction, you can’t work on mental health and you can’t work on social support because you have no where to live,” she said.

Ultimately, Gauvreau said something needs to be done and it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

“We need more permanent supported housing, we desperately lack subsidized housing and affordable housing and it’s just getting worse,” she said.