Red Deer can tick another important item off its “urgent needs” list: the city is receiving $7 million to build an integrated 24/7 homeless shelter.
This news, delivered as part of Thursday’s provincial budget, follows Wednesday’s revelation that $100 million has been earmarked for a Red Deer hospital expansion, once a $5-million study figures out the project’s logistics.
The shelter announcement was celebrated by the local business community, as well as advocates who’ve been helping homeless people in the city with inadequate resources.
“It’s awesome! This is so good for the community,” said Kath Hoffman, executive director of the Safe Harbour Society, who added “it’s been needed for a very long time.”
Hoffman commended city council for its ongoing lobbying effort for a shelter, and looks forward to finding out more details of what the project will provide.
Mayor Tara Veer and city councillors were also thrilled with the news.
This is the second time an integrated shelter has been promised to Red Deer, since the former NDP didn’t hold onto power long enough to act on its first pledge of a shelter.
The UCP government’s commitment of $7 million for the project on Thursday “is a very positive move,” according to Coun. Michael Dawe.
“First steps are always important, and these are two very big first steps,” Dawe added, referring also to the government’s hospital expansion funding promise.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said many unknowns must still be resolved through community consultations — such as where will the shelter be located? How many beds will it have? Which organization will operate it? And will it be built as an expansion to an existing shelter or at a new site?
But Wyntjes is glad the city is getting an integrated shelter — which means it will be a one-stop hub to help homeless people receive whatever assistance they need to get off the street and lead stable lives.
Mental health care will be a vital component, she added.
In a statement, Veer said the emergency shelter will address “the urgent need for a larger, more functional and integrated shelter to accommodate the current demand for shelter spaces throughout the year.”
Council identified a 24/7 emergency shelter as one of Red Deer’s most critical social infrastructure needs.
Reg Warkentin, policy and governmental affairs adviser for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said many business owners who have been impacted by the social service problems in the downtown will be relieved that more shelter spaces are coming.
Getting homeless people off the street and into helpful programs “is tremendously important so that they can attract and retain business,” Warkentin added.
Veer feels this social crisis “manifested itself in rough sleeper camps (in parks and wooded areas) causing significant safety and other challenges throughout our community.”