Some Red Deer city councillors felt setting “proximity to services” as one criteria for selecting a homeless shelter site would prevent them from considering properties outside the downtown since most services are now located at the city’s core. (Advocate file photo).

Some Red Deer city councillors felt setting “proximity to services” as one criteria for selecting a homeless shelter site would prevent them from considering properties outside the downtown since most services are now located at the city’s core. (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer city council debates whether ‘proximity to services’ will tie them to a downtown shelter location

‘No matter how we word it, we know where those services are,’ said Coun. Barnstable

“Proximity to services” was cited by many surveyed Red Deerians as an important consideration for choosing the location for a permanent homeless shelter.

However, at a special city council meeting on Monday, some city councillors expressed fears that since most social services are located in the downtown, this could prevent council from choosing a location outside of Red Deer’s core for the shelter.

Coun. Vesna Higham and Coun. Dianne Wyntjes both felt the word “proximity” was problematic because virtually all services — from the overdose prevention site to mental health and housing services — were located in the downtown.

“It narrows it down too much,” said Wyntjes. Higham suggested choosing another word.

Coun. Victor Doerksen proposed changing it to “regularly used services” while Coun. Lawrence Lee suggested that proximity only be “strongly encouraged” instead of “considered.”

Kraymer Barnstable encouraged council to stop “messing around” with language, saying this does a disservice to the many Red Deerians who, when surveyed, clearly wanted the shelter to be located close to services.

“No matter how we word it, we know where those services are,” said Barnstable, who added council must “come to grips” with their downtown location, while weighing this against other considerations that Red Deerians deemed were important — such as public safety and community impacts.

After the meeting he explained: “There’s a push by some councillors to get the shelter away from the downtown area, when in reality the majority of services are in the downtown.”

While council wants creative solutions, such having some of these services moved into the shelter, councillors can only play an advocacy role in this regard; since the shelter is a provincial project the government will have a final say.

Advocacy will be “a huge part of our role,” but this must be a future effort, since the immediate goal is to select criteria for an eventual decision, said Barnstable.

No formal wording approvals were made Monday; however, the definition around “access to services and supports” was left for the time being as: “Safety and basic needs for all is a priority. Regularly utilized services and supports that would not be co-located are taken into consideration. Sites where co-located services can operationalize are preferred. “

Council also expanded definitions around the four other site criteria identified last Friday:

– Ability to acquire site: Acquiring the optimum site can be done in a timely manner. Acquisition options and costs are important considerations.

– Adequate size: The size of the site considers the potential need to adjust service delivery at any given time. It will accommodate proposed integrated amenities and services. It considers the land size needed to accommodate outdoor gathering spaces and activities. The site already has a building or can accommodate a building that meets the Province’s minimum requirement of 10,000 square feet.

– Broad community impact: The site aligns with The City’s vision for the community. Community impact includes considerations such as, impacts on economic and business development, and municipal operations. It includes potential reputational impacts and financial impacts (both capital and operating). It also includes impacts to those accessing shelter services in our community. The site considers impacts to our community as a whole, including health, and safety for all in our valued places and spaces that are enjoyed by our citizens.

– Impacts to surrounding area: Impacts to businesses, residences, parks, trails, and schools are a priority consideration in selecting site. The city’s reputation is considered. A preferred site can accommodate and foster development of a safe, secure shelter.

Mayor Ken Johnston admitted council didn’t get as far as expected on Monday, but he was satisfied that the councillors were very engaged, “energized,” and ready to surmount challenges to come together for a finalized criteria list on Monday.

City Council will be proceeding to the next steps: weighing the importance of each option and creating a site evaluation matrix.

For more information on the permanent shelter process, visit www.reddeer.ca/shelter.

Red Deer City Council