City of Red Deer’s administration could not find land to purchase to house a temporary homeless shelter — so another strategy is being considered.
A by-invitation meeting of Red Deer’s social service agencies and police has been called for Sept. 8 to “brainstorm” for a solution to the space crunch that will result after the existing Safe Harbour temporary shelter shuts down on Sept. 30.
City council would not extend the shelter’s zoning at the downtown former Cannery Row Bingo site beyond the end of next month out of concerns about vagrancy and crime expressed by core-area businesses. Instead, council asked city administration to look at purchasing land to accommodate a temporary shelter, even if portables have to be installed at the site.
Council had previously heard no local landlords wanted to lease space for the Safe Harbour temporary shelter, so a land purchase was suggested.
But Kristin Walsh, the city’s manager of safe and healthy communities, said on Monday that no land could be found for purchase that met all of the criteria: Being affordable, outside the downtown, and that could be renovated for shelter use before the end of September.
Most bare land parcels available are in the downtown, said Walsh.
Other available properties were pushing $2 million and would have to be renovated — which would further drive up costs and mean they would still not be ready for Oct. 1 occupancy, she added.
“A list of 50 (properties) was narrowed down to five potential sites, and we visited them with a realtor, but not one of them was suitable.”
As administration already had its hands full with assisting with the construction of a permanent shelter, she added, the decision was made to discontinue the search for temporary shelter land.
The plan now is to ask various social service agencies, including shelter operator Safe Harbour, Turning Point, The Mustard Seed, RCMP, and the Downtown Business Association, among others, to the brainstorming meeting on Sept. 8 to see what solution can “collaboratively” be found, said Walsh.
The answer will not involve adding more infrastructure, but looking at what resources are already available to the agencies that are supporting people, and seeing if these can be adapted to help shelter clients, she said.
“We want to find the right solutions for their daytime and night-time needs.”
Ideally, no one should be using shelters over the long-haul, Walsh added. “The goal is to get them into housing as quickly as possible.” The meeting will determine if existing agency resources can be used in different ways, or operations can be changed to a different focus.
In July, Sarah Tittemore, the city’s general manager of community services, suggested that a gap in shelter spaces could lead to a local state of emergency being declared, which would require the shelter to remain at Cannery Row.
But Walsh said there would have to be “evident need” for this.
“Our hope is that, with this (Sept. 8) session, we will be coming up with local solutions by using our agency partners.”
Safe Harbour’s executive-director, Kath Hoffman, was not immediately available for comment Monday.