In four weeks, Red Deer city council will review options on where Safe Harbour’s temporary homeless shelter can be relocated so it doesn’t hamper downtown businesses.
Councillors directed administration to come up with next-step options for relocating the downtown homeless shelter out of the downtown. But they had trouble agreeing on a definition of ‘downtown’ at a special meeting held on Wednesday.
Coun. Vesna Higham attempted to exclude potential sites in all of the greater downtown area, and not just the historic downtown, Railyards and Capstone areas.
But most other councillors thought this would be too limiting. Coun. Lawrence Lee spoke for the majority by saying he wanted to be open-minded and see all available options.
Coun. Tanya Handley also went along with this — but cautioned administrators that she would not be supporting any sites that just move the shelter over by a few streets: “Why are we doing this if we are going to move it three to four blocks?”
City administrators were asked to bring back a report in four weeks with various potential sites for relocating the shelter from the former Cannery Row Bingo building.
The report is to include the cost and timing, and be done in collaboration with the shelter service provider, Safe Harbour.
The pandemic is not over — so it’s important to have a safe space for the city’s vulnerable population, cautioned Sarah Tittemore, general manager of community services for the city.
She noted a viral outbreak at the Cannery Row temporary shelter was able to be contained because it is large enough for proper distancing, but 43 contagious individuals are now in isolation.
City manager Allan Seabrooke told councillors that Safe Harbour and the province still have the right to pick their own site, as long as it’s zoned for public service. In that case, council would have no input on where it goes.
But if a rezoning is needed for a new location, Seabrooke said councillors will have to extend the May 31 deadline for the shelter to leave the Cannery Row site beyond the two months specified at council’s March 29 meeting.
The temporary shelter was established at the former Cannery Row site at 5239-53 Ave., a year ago to provide homeless sleepers with more space after the pandemic began. A 12-month license was approved.
But a permanent homeless shelter, promised to Red Deer by the province, won’t be built for two to three years.
Most councillors, who read 25 letters received from area businesses complaining about chronic crime and social disorder from some shelter clients, were against allowing the temporary shelter to remain at Cannery Row for that long.
But Safe Harbour stated earlier this week that a two-month deadline for relocating was not enough time to find a new site outside the downtown and go through a municipal rezoning process.
On Wednesday, council heard that if the Cannery Row location closes before another shelter site is found, 40 people would likely be sleeping in doorways or parks as there’s not enough overnight sleeping space at Safe Harbour’s existing site at 5246-53 Ave.— a block from Cannery Row.
As well, there would no daytime warming space, which is now used by 60 to 100 homeless people.
While providing homeless shelters is a provincial responsibility, councillors agreed that the City of Red Deer has “a jurisdictional and moral obligation” to provide safety and security to all citizens — especially the most vulnerable.