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Third proposed shelter site is now off the table, says disappointed Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston

“The journey is not over,” the selection process will start again, he added
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

The third homeless shelter location chosen by Red Deer city council has been scuttled because the landowner doesn’t want to sell.

At a Friday news conference, Mayor Ken Johnston revealed the last location selected by council for the shelter, while favourable to the province, is now off the table because negotiations with the private landowner were unsuccessful.

The Mayor called it a “temporary obstacle,” Johnston added council will be revisiting a list of 104 available sites to explore other options — and will also ask administration to explore whether more potential sites have recently come on the market.

“We were hopeful that by this time we’d be moving forward on a site that we truly believe aligns with our vision of shelter services in Red Deer,” said Johnston. “We… understand that sometimes things don’t go as planned and we’re ready to move forward.”

Johnston acknowledged many Red Deerians will be disappointed with this development. “I remain greatly disappointed, but we need a willing seller,” he added.


-‘Next steps’ on shelter to be revealed

The first site the city selected in January 2022 was on city owned land near the Taylor Bridge, but its proximity to Capstone and the downtown raised community objections, so it was dropped.

The second site picked was in North Red Deer, but Johnston the province had concerns about its proximity to other services. Having a shelter at this spot was deemed incompatible, so this site proposal was also abandoned last fall.

The latest location selected was in southwest Red Deer, said Johnston. While the province was agreeable, it became clear at the negotiation stage the seller was unwilling to sell the land, he added.

The mayor said he couldn’t go into more details about these sites because of landowner confidentiality.

When asked whether the City of Red Deer had looked into whether property owners would be amenable to selling their land for a shelter before properties were short-listed, the mayor said council wanted to keep all options open and allow landowners to be engaged by the province at the negotiation stage.

“We had a duty to make an exhaustive search,” he said. But going forward, Johnston added council will “be trying to look at this with fresh eyes. We are starting the process again.”

More consultations will be done with various groups that have offered to help out with the search, he said. “We will be doing things differently.”


- Province shares our shelter vision, says Mayor

Over the past 14 months, city council has worked “tirelessly” to find a shelter site that would fit with the needs and values of the community, said Johnston, and the journey is far from over.

The provincial government has committed $7.5 million to build a permanent homeless shelter with integrated services in Red Deer, and originally anticipated opening it by 2024.

Alberta Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon, who attended the news conference virtually, said he knows how important this project is to Red Deer and he praised city council’s dedication and willingness to look at innovative models of homeless shelters that integrate other services.

What’s being envisioned for Red Deer is not just housing people for the night, but helping end homelessness by connecting these people overcome their challenges with addictions and trauma by connecting them with other services.

Nixon, who worked in the non-profit sector before becoming a politician, said “I’ve gone down this road before,” in terms of experiencing difficulties finding a shelter site.

This latest “snag… is not like going back to square one,” since much has been learned about the process and community priorities, said Nixon. “A lot of research has been done and we will be building off our successes.”

Meanwhile, Red Deer’s temporary homeless shelter, operated by Safe Harbour Society, is continuing to run in the former Cannery Rose bingo site north of Superstore. Given all the delays in building the permanent shelter, city council will start discussions about allowing the temporary Cannery Row shelter to continue operating past February 2024.

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