Coun. Vesna Higham (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer city councillor questions need for another plan to end homelessness

Why not use the money to help people directly, asks Vesna Higham

Rather than spending money yet on another homelessness study, why not use the cash to actually help people in need, asked a Red Deer city councillor.

On Monday, Coun. Vesna Higham questioned the point of spending $62,200 (which was previously approved by council) on a new five-year plan to help accommodate the city’s homelessness population.

Council was told a new document was needed to replace the city’s 10-year Plan to End Homelessness that expired at the end of last year.

“What has changed? Why not put the money into people and programs rather than consultants and committees?” Higham asked.

Sarah Cockerill, the city’s community services director, responded that the community’s needs have changed greatly since 2018, considering the opioid crisis and slowed economy. “The face of homelessness is more complex.”

City staff have also learned it’s very important to engage the community in the process — especially Indigenous people, who make up a disproportionate number of those who struggle to find appropriate and affordable accommodations, Cockerill added.

Beyond that, she said it’s easier to successfully apply for provincial and federal grants for low-cost housing projects “if the community supports a plan and we are all pulling in the same direction.”

Higham was satisfied a plan is needed if it makes getting government grants easier. City council ended up approving the terms of reference for a new document that will seek to improve co-ordination between groups and deliver a broader spectrum of housing options in a “relevant, diverse, broad community plan.”

Mayor Tara Veer said this will not displace the city’s need for a 24-hour shelter for homeless people. Red Deer has become more of a regional hub over the last decade, she added, and there’s a need for the province to invest in more shelter capacity here.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said, “It’s more and more difficult for people to have a home… I look forward to having greater co-ordination and support.”

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