The Safe Harbour Society is still unsure of its future in downtown Red Deer.
In a March council meeting, the City of Red Deer unexpectedly decided to remove the temporary homeless shelter from the city’s core in two months.
That May deadline could spell disaster for the city’s homeless and most vulnerable, said Safe Harbour Society executive director Kath Hoffman.
“If worst came to worse and council didn’t reverse their decision and the shelter closes at the end of May, we’ve got a whole different ball game,” she said.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of people out there with nowhere to go and nobody to help them. It will certainly only make the problem worse.”
Hoffman explained she hopes a report presented to council next week that includes a list of available locations, will help open eyes to the reality that downtown is the best location for their services.
“That’s been going on fervently,” she said, adding they’ve been working closely with the city administration to find a resolution.
In a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, Safe Harbour pleaded with citizens to write to Red Deer city officials, saying support is needed for the Safe Harbour shelter to stay where it is until a permanent location can be found.
Hoffman noted at the last council meeting, the city had 25 letters from the business community asking for a move of the shelter, but none in favour of Safe Harbour remaining where it is.
“We know how much support there is for us staying where we are so we’ve just reached out to people and asked them to show that support to mayor and council,” Hoffman said.
“Lots of people have been more than willing to voice their concerns about the decision.”
In one recent letter to council in support of the organization, Red Deer resident Sam Denhaan, who worked on several past homelessness initiatives, said it’s disappointing to see the facility potentially move.
“The moving of the shelter in the middle of a pandemic and opioid poisoning crisis cannot be justified, rather put the energy in the creation of better conditions for the reduction of poverty,” Denhaan concluded in the letter.
A number of businesses in the area surrounding the shelter voiced concerns to council of violence, crime and dangerous behaviour, which put employees and patrons at risk.
The shelter’s temporary location, at the old Cannery Row bingo building north of Superstore, was only approved at the start of the pandemic.
Downtown Red Deer is currently the only part of the city now zoned for a homeless shelter/detox facility, so rezoning a site outside the city’s core will be a six-week process.
“Because the location we are in now happened very easily, we were in a state of emergency. All the typical city processes that have to take place didn’t have to,” Hoffman said.
“We could just go in there. That now is different. That state of emergency no longer exists. The zoning needs to be extended.”
At the meeting in late March, several councillors were also openly critical of the provincial government delaying the building of a permanent 24/7 homeless shelter that was first promised to the city in 2019 but might not be completed until 2023-24.
The Alberta government approved $7 million for a permanent homeless shelter for Red Deer in 2019, although no location or timeline has yet been approved for this project.
The homeless shelter offers an overnight sleeping space for 50 to 60 people. Safe Harbour staff also operate drop-in and day-sleep programs and helps connect people with housing, health services, including medically supported detox.
Hoffman says until a new facility is ready to go, it simply won’t help the city’s most vulnerable to move out of downtown.
“That permanent location is coming. We’ve been working hard with the province and the city to get that here and ready. That work never really stopped. Everybody was working hard on that,” she said.
“To stay where we are, until that next location becomes available, makes the most sense. Certainly, the most economical and that is not to discount what the businesses are going through.
“It’s just that if council is prepared to spend more money to retrofit another location for us – rather than do that, their money could be better spent helping to support the businesses … there are smarter ways to spend that money.”