A too-tight time frame for relocating the Safe Harbour homeless shelter could potentially lead to 50-60 people to be sleeping outdoors, with no access to bathrooms, detox or health services, say shelter operators.
From increased demand on RCMP and EMS services, to “no place for concerned citizens to refer people that they see in distress” — Safe Harbour outlined the many problems that could result if the temporary homeless shelter is forced to close in the former Cannery Row Bingo building, without a new site being found outside the downtown.
Although city council gave Safe Harbour a two-month period for finding a new shelter location, the social service agency stated this actually allows only a two-week window to find a new site.
Downtown Red Deer is the only part of the city now zoned for a homeless shelter/detox facility, so rezoning a site outside the city’s core will be a six-week process, Safe Harbour stated in a release.
Its homeless shelter offers an overnight sleeping space to 50 to 60 people. Safe Harbour staff also operate drop-in and day-sleep programs, and helps connect people with housing, health services, including medically supported detox.
As well, Safe Harbour has outreach programs, gives referrals for addiction treatment, and access to bathrooms, showers, storage and laundry space.
All of that will be lost if the temporary shelter has to close without a new site being found, stated the release.
Red Deer City manager Allan Seabrooke said on Monday that he understands the challenges involved with the shelter’s relocation and recognizes that the two-month time limit could be insufficient.
City administration will have discussions with city council “about what the next steps should be,” said Seabrooke, “We may have to pivot back” and revisit the time frame for a shelter relocation, or look at other options, he added.
City administrators had recommended council extend the license to allow the shelter to remain at the downtown former Cannery Row Bingo site until a permanent shelter is built by the province in two to three years. But council was instead swayed by 25 letters received by surrounding downtown businesses that complained of crime and social disorder caused by some shelter clients.
It’s not the first time that city councillors have gone against an administrative recommendation, “but that’s just the way the process works,” said Seabrooke, who didn’t yet know when discussions with council will be held.
A statement from Red Deer city councillors on the situation is expected on Tuesday.
Safe Harbour board chair Buzz Vander Vliet, said, “We understand completely the frustrations of the downtown business community” that led to the March 29 city council decision.
But he believes it’s important for the community to understand that if a new shelter location can’t be found, “there will be 100 to 120 people a day on average with no where else to be,” and 50-60 people won’t have a safe place to sleep.
Kath Hoffman, executive director of the Safe Harbour Society, said, “People we serve, combined with the continual temporary facilities we’ve had to operate from, challenge us tremendously,” but the non-profit has been working for 19 years to try to help create a safer community.
While the Mustard Seed homeless shelter accepts people who are sober, Safe Harbour also accepts people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Dr. Michael Mulholland, a lead with Safe Harbour’s Medically Supported Detox Program, said these clients have complex medical and mental health needs: “Moving shelter services away from where this population is will not help us to address these complex social and medical issues or make an easy transition to stable housing and recovery.”