A Red Deer city councillor’s statement that she’s ready to buy bus tickets to send some problem homeless people to Edmonton or Calgary is winning sympathy for the shelter, says its director.
“It’s a very telling comment. It goes to show there are still people out there who think you have to deserve shelter” — and some of these people are municipal decision-makers, said Kath Hoffman, executive-director of Safe Harbour, which runs the local homeless shelter.
Hoffman thinks Coun. Vesna Higham’s bus ticket comment — which was made during Wednesday’s council debate about whether the homeless shelter should continue to operate in the downtown — is actually working in the shelter’s favour.
“This is a human rights issue… and I think it’s winning us sympathy,” she said.
Hoffman added Safe Harbour’s mandate is to accept everyone who needs a roof over their heads, regardless of whether these people are intoxicated or high.
She told council earlier this week that her clients are sicker than they used to be, in the thoes of worse drugs, and don’t have the capacity to understand their negative behaviour.
Higham was not immediately available on Thursday to respond.
Red Deer’s downtown is practically a “war zone” in which many people have felt “terrorized and victimized” by people who threaten and break the law, Higham said during Wednesday’s council debate.
“I know this may sound extreme, but honestly, I may be at the point where I would be willing to consider buying a bus ticket to Calgary or Edmonton for individuals in our community who for whatever reason won’t or can’t abide such simple, basic expectations. It might mean they require higher modalities of service than we have resources for in our community.
“If they can make their way around this city to commit crimes and steal goods in exchange for drug money which they then navigate with local dealers – they can do all of that in a day’s work – but they can’t be expected to abide by a few basic standards and expectations for shelter services.”
The non-profit shelter was given four more months to move out of its temporary downtown location, and several councillors mentioned this would be used as a test period to see if Safe Harbour’s clients can improve their behaviour, which includes reducing litter and social disorder.
Higham and Coun. Tanya Handley both spoke on Wednesday of being bothered that some homeless clients were not taking accountability of their actions. Handley said if the shelter’s clients are unable to take responsibility for their behaviour, then the shelter operator should be.
Hoffman responded on Thursday by saying Safe Harbour’s board is seriously considering the accountability expectations that city council has placed on it.
“We are waiting for the city to define what level of accountability that is so we can see whether or not we have the capacity to do that, or even if it fits with our mission statement…
“We believe that everyone has the right to shelter, even if they are too sick” to take responsibility for what they do outside the building or shelter grounds.
Hoffman isn’t yet sure of what options Safe Harbour’s board will be looking at for the longer term.