The goal of a new Red Deer pilot is to find next-step housing for at least 35 individuals facing homelessness within the six-month period. (File photo by Advocate staff)

The goal of a new Red Deer pilot is to find next-step housing for at least 35 individuals facing homelessness within the six-month period. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer starts pilot program to get unhoused people out of shelters and into homes

Council approves initiatives to try to reduce shelter stays

Red Deer city council approved a six-month transitional housing pilot project to try to reduce the number of people facing homelessness who depend on extended stays at local shelters.

Mayor Ken Johnston called it great news for the city, saying this pilot program could not only help the city’s vulnerable citizens recover their dignity, but also help with the recovery of downtown business, tourism and economic development — and the city’s very identity.

In a special meeting on Monday, Community Services manager Ryan Veldkamp, the city’s housing and homelessness supervisor, asked city council to approve initiatives to reduce pressure on the homeless shelters and move people towards more permanent housing options.

Council agreed with all of them, including the most significant initiative: allowing a redirection of $587,000 of provincial OSSI (Outreach and Support Services Initiative) funding to facilitate the implementation of six-month transitional housing pilot.

Veldkamp said this funding was the un-allocated portion of a $3.8 million annual provincial grant.

It will go towards supporting staff at the city’s two shelters (Safe Harbour and The Mustard Seed) to work with unhoused people, who are deemed capable and interested in finding their own housing solutions, to help them track down market rentals in the community.

Financial support for first and last month’s rent, could be provided to help these people get into available apartments, said Veldkamp. Some funds will also be available to keep people from losing their accomodations. This includes funds to cover utility deposits, security deposits, one-time rent arrears assistance and move-in costs.

Johnston admitted some shelter clients are hard to house, so this would be just one piece of the puzzle needed to resolve some of the downtown problems.

He believes the new drug court and two local addictions treatment centres that are expected to open over the next year or two will hopefully provide other needed pieces of the puzzle.

“We are just starting this work,” added the mayor. But he believes the value of finding housing for shelter clients cannot be overestimated.

Veldkamp said the City of Red Deer found this transitional housing model had great success in the City of Calgary, reducing many shelter stays. More than three-quarters of former shelter clients who were helped to find market housing managed to make it work, said Veldkamp.“They were interested in developing their own housing plan.”

The Red Deer pilot program’s goal is to find next-step housing for at least 35 individuals within the six-month period. If it is successful, Johnson said the city will have to talk to the province and other housing groups to find money to keep it going over the longer term.

Other city council members also praised the pilot idea, which was developed by the city’s Community Services department since Dec. 1. Coun. Michael Dawe called it “one step along a very long road… But progress is taking the first step.”

Council also endorsed other initiatives presented by Veldkamp on Monday. These include directing the city’s Housing and Homelessness Integrated Committee to work on expediting local permanent supportive housing development — and explore getting funding for this from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, higher levels of government, and agencies.

Veldkamp told council a local shortfall of 77 spots exists in supportive permanent housing needed for people with developmental delays, mental health and addictions issues. Council was also urged to lobby the provincial Social Services and Seniors Housing ministry to get additional permanent supportive housing units in Red Deer to meet this need.

As well, city administration agreed to advocate for more “integrated access” to help steer shelter clients into housing through other contact points — including addictions treatment, the drug court, police, etc.

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