Safe Harbour Society staff will soon get some heart-breaking training — how to turn people away.
The temporary emergency shelter in the former Cannery Row Bingo, which had room for up to 80 people, must shut its doors at the end of the month and that would only leave 26 spaces available in the old location.
And that won’t be enough, knows society executive director Kath Hoffman.
“I’ll have to do some kind of training with my staff on how you turn people away.”
Hoffman envisions scenarios where people come to the door of the shelter when it’s -20 C or -30 C and staff will have no choice but to send them away.
“They can’t even come in to warm up because we don’t have the space. So where do they go?”
Hoffman is frustrated that her staff will be faced with those sorts of horrendous decisions.
“In winter, it is not in our Canadian DNA to turn people away from shelter. So, how do I train my staff to do that?”
A city-organized brainstorming session last week which drew 30 representatives from the community and government agreed that the shelter, or something like it, is needed until a permanent solution is found.
Hoffman was at the meeting, and while there were no ready answers to deal with the impact of the shelter closure, she appreciated the shared determination to address the problem.
“What was nice was we had people all around us who were as concerned as we are about the consequences come Oct. 1,” she said.
“I didn’t feel so alone. There are a lot of people who understand the ripple effect and are quite concerned about it.”
An emergency shelter working group is being formed to assess the feasibility of ideas that came out of brainstorming session on the impact of the emergency shelter closing at the end of the month. It will talk to those using the shelter and other services while looking at future funding options. The public will also be given a chance to provide input.
Task forces are also being set up to look at how to deal with issues such as the expected increased pressure that will be put on other shelters, including Mustard Seed, as well as other community emergency and support services.
Safe Harbour is already working on other options, such as using transitional housing to provide spaces for 14 to 20 people.
“We’re trying to mitigate things fast. But certainly it’s not going to help everybody who needs it. Our numbers show we need more spaces than we have.”
Turning Point Society executive director Stacey Carmichael also anticipates far-reaching impacts from the shelter closure.
“This is not something that we will be able to fix following a couple of meetings or within a couple of weeks,” said Carmichael on Monday.
“We spent too much time pointing fingers and now no matter what we will soon see a significant decline in services for individuals who are homeless and who use substances in Red Deer.
“There will no doubt be negative implications and they will be felt throughout the community. We are bracing ourselves at Turning Point for what might be the most difficult time we have worked through, considering we are in an overdose crisis and a global pandemic that should say a lot.”