After years of asking, the City of Red Deer is getting $7-million from the province for a 120-bed, 24-hour shelter for homeless and addicted people.
“We heard loud and clear that Red Deer urgently needs more shelter space and support to meet the needs of the community’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Irfan Sabir, Minister of Community and Social Services on Thursday.
Sabir noted a shelter had been identified by the city officials, citizens and stakeholders as a top priority and said the 24-7 facility, will open by the end of 2020 and offer wrap-around supports.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer welcomed the funding, saying that the city has been publicly asking for years for a 24/7 shelter. She added that over the past year Red Deer’s social infrastructure deficit has turned into a social crisis, fuelled by the slow economy and continuing opioid crisis.
“This allocation of funding for a 24/7 shelter in Red Deer will go a long way to meet the safety needs of Red Deer’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Veer.
Neither Sabir nor Veer could provide details on Thursday about what kind of building will be constructed or in what location. They said this is yet to be determined.
Veer hopes the new shelter will help eliminate the 60-or so rough sleeper camps in parks that are annually cleaned up by the city.
“A 24/7 shelter is one of Red Deer’s most critical social infrastructure needs,” Veer added.
Sabir described the new shelter as a triage centre, where individuals will be assessed and given appropriate help.
Homeless people with complex issues will be referred to various programs and services that will help them to get into more permanent housing, so they can begin to lead “more meaningful lives,” added the minister.
When asked why this funding was granted right before a provincial election and not before, Sabir said Red Deer’s infrastructure deficit largely accrued under the previous Conservative government, and got acute over the past year with the opioid crisis. He said the province has been working with the city to come up with the best ways of dealing with the city’s social problems.
The new capital funding is in addition to $3.8 million the province is providing annually for Housing First programming and $1.1 million to operate the People’s Place Adult Emergency Shelter and the Winter Warming Centre. Another $324,000 was recently allocated for the Warming Centre to extend its operation to September 2019.
Safe Harbour’s executive-director Kath Hoffman hopes the space is accessible to the people who need the help. She isn’t sure whether her group will be chosen to operate the facility, saying a call for proposals could be issued by government.
Safe Harbour is a non-profit that operates the local mat shelter, where people who are using drugs or alcohol can spend the night in portables. “We have a bit of experience” with the homeless and addicted population, she said.
Hoffman feels a shelter has been needed in Red Deer for more than a decade.
Getting the funding commitment makes it “a huge day,” said Safe Harbour’s board chair Buzz Vander Vliet, who’s thrilled that a 24/7 facility will be available to help keep homeless people alive and give them options to get off the street.