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Red Deer mayor is encouraged province ‘shares our vision’ on homeless shelter site

Ken Johnston is hoping to get letter of approval in a few days
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston is feeling quite positive the province will soon approve the latest site selection made by city council for the permanent homeless shelter. (Advocate file photo.)

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston left a meeting with the new community development minister feeling “99 per cent sure” provincial approval for a homeless shelter site selected by the city was imminent.

“The first hurdle will be getting the province’s OK, and I am far more optimistic we will be getting that letter” within a few days, said Johnston.

He described Monday’s introductory meeting with Jeremy Nixon, Alberta’s new Community Services, Housing and Seniors minister, as “very productive, very positive…

“I am encouraged the province shared our vision about the site.”

City council is now in discussions with the province about a second site selection for the shelter project after the previous community services minister Jason Luan called council’s first proposed location inappropriate.

Johnston feels Nixon is on board with this second site and “has the urgency, to keep this (process) moving.”

Neither location has yet been revealed to the public since the Freedom of Information, Protection of Privacy Act allows land negotiations to be kept private. Johnston said the private landowner has been told his property is under consideration, but negotiations can’t get underway until after the provincial approval letter is received.

And Red Deerians won’t find out where the shelter will be located until the land purchase is finalized.

City council representatives were pleased to hear on Monday that Nixon is standing by the provincial capital commitment of $7 million to build Red Deer a permanent homeless shelter. But the new minister also understands that construction costs, with inflation, could surpass what was promised in 2019,“and I am encouraged that he is open to having further discussions about this,” said Johnston.

Jeremy Nixon has worked closely with his father Pat, who founded The Mustard Seed, with people struggling to find housing and have addictions and/or mental health issues, added the mayor. “He has life and practical experience and I am impressed with his grasp of the challenges.”

On Wednesday, Johnston and several other city council representatives will be returning to Edmonton to meet with three more ministers.

The mayor said he’s anxious to talk to Alberta’s new Infrastructure Minister Nathan Neudorf about the timeline for the long-awaited Red Deer hospital expansion. So far, the community has been very patient, but Red Deerians would like some more concrete answers, said Johnston.

Questions about how the new addictions treatment centre, being built at the north end of the city, will operate, and when Red Deer can get a better harm reduction facility than the overdose prevention centre will be directed to Mental Health and Addictions Minister Nicolas Milliken.

And Johnston wants to talk to Municipal Affairs Minister Rebecca Schulz about a new fiscal framework for how municipalities are funded by the province.

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