About 50 residents of Red Deer’s Pines neighbourhood gathered this week to vent worries about the permanent homeless shelter possibly landing at their back doorstep.
Rumors are swirling among the neighbours that the City of Red Deer has chosen to locate the new shelter across Riverside Drive and just south from Three-Mile Bend — along or near the east end of 42nd Avenue.
One Pines resident had measured the distance and found it was a four-and-a-half minute walk through the wooded ravine to her home on Piper Drive, recalled Elizabeth Wilson, who attended Tuesday’s gathering.
There’s no official word from the City of Red Deer on where the shelter will be located — or if there’s any truth to the rumours it is slated for the area, east of the Pines. But “we are assembling because this is a big deal for us,” added Wilson.
In response to the citizen concerns, Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston released a lengthy statement on Thursday that did not confirm or deny that this location is being considered: “The City does not yet have a confirmed site for a future permanent shelter,” he said. “We are currently exploring a provincially-supported single site in more detail, but at this time, this work is in the beginning stages.
“Selecting a future shelter site has been a difficult process in that we, at times, have had limited ability to share information with our community because of nuances related to provincial and municipal roles and responsibilities for this project, as well as private versus public land availability and negotiation,” added Johnston.
”It has always been and remains our intention to share information and publicly disclose information about a site as soon as possible, to our community.”
Wilson explained many residents of her North Red Deer neighbourhood don’t want to wait for a re-zoning hearing to speak up because they fear the property will be purchased by that time and it will be a done deal.
The Pines neighbourhood group intended to send a strong message to the City of Red Deer that they oppose this location. At Tuesday’s meeting, they brought up fire and safety concerns if homeless people left the shelter and camped or loitered in the wooded ravine.
Wilson recalled last summer’s fire danger was frequently mentioned. “The woods behind Pines is dry, with lots of dead fall,” she explained. Wilson heard firefighters had to respond to a blaze there in June on foot as there was no easy vehicle access into the forest. “Homeless people will wander and camp …and (light) fires to keep warm…
“People who use drugs or alcohol also can behave erratically” and would leave Pines residents feeling unsafe, she added.
The mayor and council had promised transparency, but held all crucial meetings in private, said Wilson. “They hid behind the need not to affect land negotiations.”
In his statement, Johnston confirmed that “right now, we are not prepared to share more information as we are committed to protecting the land negotiation process, any rezoning processes that might arise, and associated confidentiality per our agreement with a private landowner.”
On May 9 a site was approved by Red Deer city council to recommend to the Province of Alberta. The province provided support for the recommended site on June 26. And then City Council met to discuss next steps “as we continue to navigate the site selection process,” said Johnston.
“On behalf of City Council, I want our community to know we hear their trepidation related to potential locations for a future shelter in Red Deer. As a City Council, we too feel frustrated and apprehensive with our inability to move forward and share information with our community as quickly as we would like.
“We know there is no one site that will alleviate concerns for those in the vicinity of a shelter; however, The City is working closely with the province to ensure a purpose-built space that will not only look different from what we have now but will meet the needs of everyone in our community, including businesses, citizens, and shelter users.
“We want residents in the Pines neighbourhood and across our community to know we hear their concerns, and we will continue to listen, adjust, and share information as best we can, as we work to site a shelter in a way that meets the needs of everyone in our city.”
Johnston added the shelter is a provincial project, “and The City of Red Deer will continue to partner with the Province as we move forward. City council is “ deeply invested in this work, and we recognize the impact and importance for our community and its citizens.”