Not having to vacate the Cannery Row shelter space in three days is causing Safe Harbour captain Kath Hoffman to express partial relief — but also rising anxiety about what this winter will bring.
The shelter no longer has to move out of the downtown location on Sept. 30. It’s received a temporary reprieve because of rising COVID-19 cases, including several outbreaks among shelter clients, said executive-director Hoffman in a Facebook live report on Monday.
But she added this will only last as long as a pandemic-triggered local state of emergency continues for the City of Red Deer. If the local state of emergency is not extended after 60 days, then the temporary shelter will still have to move out of the Cannery Row location by mid-November — potentially leaving 70 or so homeless clients out in the cold.
Hoffman maintained that Safe Harbour is perfectly willing to leave the downtown space, but has no where else to go.
City council was previously told no other local property owners are willing to rent their buildings for this purpose, and the City of Red Deer has, so far, been unable to purchase any land.
“The shelter is hanging by a thread,” said Hoffman, who revealed a staffing crunch now exists at Cannery Row because several workers have taken other jobs due to the uncertainty.
This predicament was created when city council ordered the temporary shelter to close over crime and loitering complaints without having a viable Plan B. Hoffman admitted she’s now in the “weird,” unsettling position of hoping the local COVID crisis that’s caused the state of emergency will continue until spring so no one has to live in the streets of Red Deer this winter.
“I’m almost hoping that things will get worse,” she said, calling this situation ”a nightmare of stress.” The prospect of having to turn people away as temperatures plunge will inflict a “moral injury” on herself and her staff, added Hoffman, who defined this as being forced to act against their conscience and beliefs.
Mid-November, she said, “is not the time to evict someone into the cold.”
On Sept. 23, the City of Red Deer’s Emergency Operations Centre signed an emergency order allowing the temporary emergency shelter at Cannery Row to continue operating past Sept. 30. The shelter will be able to operate for 60 days, or until this order is revoked.
Ken McMullen, director of emergency management had stated it was a difficult decision, but “we want to make sure our vulnerable population have access to care and resources… The site will allow us to monitor, test and mitigate any further community-based spread and increased dependency on our already strained health supports.”
Hoffman stated Monday that if the temporary shelter closes, then the hospital, the police, the outreach and crisis teams will also have no place to release clients who are too impaired to be accepted into The Mustard Seed shelter.
She urged Red Deerians to talk to city council candidates about where they stand on this issue before voting in the Oct. 18 municipal election. She endorses candidates with an open mind, who are willing to look at all sides of the issue.