The builder of an elaborate shelter in Red Deer’s woods says he created it to help other homeless people survive the winter.
There isn’t enough affordable housing in Red Deer, said Ryan Drummond, who added that he intends to keep building these basic, rustic dwellings in treed areas around the city.
But the City of Red Deer’s acting social planning manager, Bobby-Jo Stannard, stressed that living in the woods in the long term is unnecessary and unsafe.
And she added, “Building anywhere in the parks … is not appropriate.”
Stannard maintains there are many housing-first options than can get people into accommodations relatively quickly.
Stannard encourages homeless people to call the city or Safe Harbour to get on the housing-first list.
Drummond said he wanted to come forward because he feels homeless people, as a group, have been largely misrepresented.
He estimates knowing at least 10 people who are sleeping in city parks or green spaces without having mental illnesses or addictions. He described them as “good people,” and not criminals who commit break-ins.
Some of these residents lost their jobs or fell victim to unfortunate circumstances, added Drummond, who has heard there’s a long wait for affordable housing in the city.
The Red Deer man, who built a multi-level tree house in the ravine below Parkland Mall, recently had no address himself.
While he’s a businessman who runs PR & O Mobile Interior Detailing Service, Drummond said he lived out of his car temporarily, “because it’s summer and nice enough outside,” after a friend he’d been living with moved to Calgary.
After a month of this, Drummond concluded “homelessness sucks.” But he heard that staying in a homeless shelter can be dangerous, as the clients can be violent.
Drummond said he decided to help some rough campers get by this winter by using his own tools and free pallets to build them a multi-levelled tree house. The still-unfinished dwelling had been kept in an orderly condition.
The only evidence that the tree-hidden fort existed was some poplars or willows that had to be cut down to make room for the construction project.
It was discovered by a Community Crime Watch Facebook page administrator last week and was reported to the city. A 72-hour notice was given that the fort would be taken down.
Drummond sees cutting some public trees as a means to an end: “Homelessness is getting worse … at least I can do something good for them.”
He said he has two more of these hidden forts “on the go” around the city.
But Stannard believes far better choices are available than sleeping outdoors this winter.
She noted a co-ordinated outreach team routinely goes into Red Deer’s parks and trails to talk to rough campers about housing options.
People do not have to be staying at The Mustard Seed or Safe Harbour shelters to qualify for housing-first programs, said Stannard.
Depending on a person’s need, she said, they can be placed in an apartment, a group home or a roommate situation. The accommodations come with whatever support is needed — including for addictions, employment or education.
When someone no longer needs these supports, she said, longer-term independent accommodation can be found for them.