Kath Hoffman, executive-director of Safe Harbour Society (photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Twenty more “state of emergency” shelter beds opened in Red Deer

Council told Red Deer has the lowest number of shelter spaces in the province

A critical lack of homeless shelter spots in Red Deer has prompted city council to urgently approve 20 additional temporary beds in a former daytime warming centre.

Safe Harbour Society declared a “state of emergency” in a letter to the city Nov. 30. Executive-director Kath Hoffman said her staff turned away people from the mats programs 75 times in November.

“Imagine, there’s somebody at your door, and it’s freezing out … they can feel the warm air from inside, and you have to tell them they can’t come in,” said Hoffman.

Some of these people might have found an unlocked ATM foyer or apartment building hallway to sleep in, she added. But Hoffman asked police to watch out for those in danger of freezing to death outside.

Safe Harbour has only 26 beds in its mats program that accepts homeless people who are high or intoxicated. Yet 90 to 100 people are on the Housing First waiting list, and Red Deer had the highest opioid death rate in Alberta in 2016, council heard.

Hoffman stressed the city desperately needs more shelter spaces for the addicted or mentally ill.

City council responded Monday by unanimously approving 20 more temporary mats beds – from now to April 30 – in the trailers that house the daytime warming shelter. These are in the parking lot just north of the mats program, in the Rail-lands area near the Red Deer water treatment plant.

A few businesses wrote in against expanding the mats program in their area. They complained of needles, human waste and garbage in the streets. Hoffman said her staff have been making an effort to do a daily sweep around the facility, but resources are limited.

While Alberta Health Services provided additional funding for two staff members required to supervise the 20 additional beds, Red Deer city council accused the government of shirking its duty to provide a necessity of life.

Councillors complained the province has repeatedly turned a blind eye to a problem plaguing the city for years — Red Deer has the lowest number of shelter spaces, per capita, in the province.

The basic human right of shelter should be provided to vulnerable people — “it’s an ethical imperative,” said Mayor Tara Veer, who noted housing is a provincial jurisdiction.

“It’s time, government, that Red Deer had these supports!” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes, who plans to complain directly to the province, and encourages other Red Deerians to write in, too.

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