Caught with no other options, Red Deer city council approved an extension that allows Safe Harbour to run a warming centre for addicted people right through to March 2020.
The centre, set up in trailers in the Rail Lands area northwest of Superstore, was supposed to be temporary and close at the end of the month.
But, citing a “crisis” caused by a “horrific” increase in drug addiction, Safe Harbour asked the City of Red Deer to extend a year-round permit for the warming centre and as well as 26 overnight shelter beds.
With the absence of a permanent homeless shelter in Red Deer, the group maintains addicted people will have nowhere to go, other than loitering in the streets throughout the summer and fall.
”We anticipate much more drama in our parking lot and in the general area, with no staff or service on our end to mitigate the risks,” states Safe Harbour’s executive-director Kath Hoffman in a letter to city council.
Some area workers strongly opposed the permit extension, saying the warming centre was meant as a temporary solution in 2015 but is now becoming permanent.
They expressed safety concerns and a fear of unpredictable drug addicts.
Dirk VandenBrink complained of garbage, needle debris, vandalism, and called for a more permanent shelter solution, while Aaron Huntley said part of his business’s wall was burned by “degenerates,” who have also broken into vehicles and fought in front of his building.
“Please, please - deny this proposal,” Huntley wrote to council.
City councillors expressed empathy for these residents, saying they can understand their frustration. But they pointed out the province is not funding a badly needed permanent shelter for the city, nor a drug treatment centre.
The majority on council saw no better option than to approve Safe Harbour’s request.
Coun. Buck Buchanan was the only one to vote against the extension, agreeing with residents that it was not supposed to be permanent solution (Ken Johnston was absent from the vote), but other councillors felt a “band-aid solution” was better than no solution.
Coun. Lawrence Lee feared it might worsen problems in the area to not give addicted people a daytime shelter and extra night-time beds, but to effectively turn them out into the downtown streets.
He could see Hoffman’s point about how “social disorder” is being reduced by giving 100 to 120 homeless/addicted people an option to remain indoors during the day.
Safe Harbour blames the “horrific increase in drug usage“ for bumping up the number of individuals who are in need of a 24/7 shelter.
With a portable overdose prevention site in Safe Harbour’s parking lot, and a permanent supervised drug consumption site soon opening at Turning Point’s new site around the corner, many people opioids and crystal meth users will be hanging around, wrote Hoffman.
Her group is also asking the province to fund for a full-time security person and an on-site nurse.
City administration encouraged area residents to take their complaints about vandalism and debris to the police or city bylaws office.
Mayor Tara Veer summarized the feeling of most councillors when she said, despite misgivings, she sees few options other than approving another one-year extension. But as the province recently indicated that a more permanent shelter solution is being considered for Red Deer, Veer is hopeful this one-year extension will be the last.