As temperatures plummeted, Red Deer’s homeless shelters have become critical refuges.
“We’re having about 70 people overnight and about 100 or so during the day,” said Safe Harbour executive director Kath Hoffman.
If ever the need for a safe place for those without homes to stay it is when central Alberta’s winter bares its teeth.
Hoffman does not like to dwell on what would have happened if the shelter had been forced to close or move to a location much harder for clients to reach.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened. I just thank God we didn’t even have to think about it.”
She is also grateful for the outpouring of support from the community following a call for donations of warm clothing.
“We had a great response from the community,” she said, adding they got so many donations they do not need any more.
Others donated pizzas and children from the Caring Cooking Company returned with their donations.
In the longer term, finding a permanent home remains the critical challenge.
Before the shelter opened a much larger facility in the former bingo hall in the spring of 2020, cold snaps like we’ve had for the last week saw staff having to make the agonizing decision to turn people away.
Hoffman said she would routinely phone the RCMP to let them know her shelter was full and to keep an eye out for people in the area with no place to stay.
City council is committed to finding a new home for the shelter and related services. In the meantime, council gave first reading to extending operations for more two years at the Cannery Row site.
A public hearing is set for Jan. 17 to get public input.
Hoffman encouraged all those who appreciate the need for a permanent shelter come to the meeting to show their support.
“That would be a great gift.”
Red Deer’s Mustard Seed is also doing what it can to offer additional help during the deep freeze. The shelter for sober clients in Riverside Meadows is normally open for those seeking a place to sleep daily from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Other programs, including three-times-a-week meals are offered during the day.
However, since the temperature plunged, Mustard Seed has opened its doors all day, every day, said managing director Byron Bradley.
“During the cold weather, we pull together as a team, and even though we’re not funded during the day, we just do our best to extend our hours for folks.
“And traditionally around Christmas we try to allow our shelter folks to stay in during the day as well. Christmas is often a difficult time for a lot of our clients as they are feeling estranged from their families and relationships.”
For those who want to help out, warm clothing is always welcome. Toques, gloves, scarves and long underwear are all in demand at this time of year.
Mustard Seed plans to keep its extended hours until the cold snap ends, which looks like might happen around the weekend.