Skip to content

HACKETT: Red Deer City Council continues to grapple with shelter


One of the easiest decisions a politician can make is deciding that they’ll make a decision later.

Although Red Deer city council took great pains to hear from the community, impacted businesses, and experts in their field, council opted to extend the site exception for the “temporary” homeless shelter at Cannery Row for 15 months.

That means in May 2025, council will be right back where they were this week, hearing pleas from the community to try and find a better solution.

To me, Coun. Kraymer Barnstable hit the nail on the head when he said, “what did we accomplish?” regarding the extension and being in the same place again in 2025.

Because in just over a year, with no permanent shelter and seemingly no white knight ready to swoop in and save the unhoused population from continuing to be perceived as a burden on the city, nothing will change. As I’ve said before, we need to remember that the unhoused population are people. They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, fathers and mothers like the rest of us.

They are people with complex problems that can’t be easily fixed by waving a magic wand or bringing in a bus to ship them out of town. I think council acknowledges this much, or at least they seemed to during this most recent public hearing.

In all, 32 people spoke at the public hearing that extended over two days earlier this week and there were many emotional pleas on both sides of the argument.

Business owners and those who love Red Deer’s downtown want the problem, mainly the homeless population, to simply go away.

There’s no guarantee that fixes anything in the downtown core, but on the surface, it seems like an easy fix to a deeply complicated problem. Community members are tired of being scared to go downtown because they feel unsafe and businesses are experiencing the same thing with their employees.

Sometimes that fear is real, like when the owner of a Superstore recalled all the times they found an unhoused individual who had overdosed in their store bathroom.

There is no shortage of examples of property damage and crime that flow from downtown, an unfortunate symptom of a population that has been largely abandoned and left to fend for themselves. There is no excuse for endangering the lives of others in the community under any circumstances, but ignoring a difficult issue or expecting it to go away if you push it to the outskirts of town, is not helpful to finding a permanent solution.

These are people who are facing complex social circumstances – whether it be drug addiction, trauma or a litany of other factors – they are still people who deserve compassion and empathy.

Those who are experts in dealing with complex social problems related to homelessness explained that for several reasons, say the unhoused population just won’t disappear if you don’t give them shelter. Based on the human rights convention, shelter must be provided in some way for these folks, so if it’s not in the form of a shelter, we likely would see tent encampments like many other cities across the country.

Those same experts also note that downtown is a central location where many services are needed by unhoused individuals. Even without a shelter, those people would still find their way downtown to access services like Turning Point, soup kitchens or social supports.

All this is to say there is no easy solution to a complex problem. There is no one-size-fits-all cure. Council is being forced to deal with one of the more complicated matters in our society over the last decade.

But they signed up for this. They knew what the road ahead looked like. It seemed like they were ready to tackle the challenge.

To me, there is certainly more that can be done that is within their power, but for whatever reason, whether it be optics or a lack of understanding, they just aren’t willing to do it.

Ultimately, it’s easier to delay a decision than to make an unpopular one, and I think with the shelter in its current form, there would be lots of unhappiness if it were made permanent where it is now.

That’s why the city has been searching so hard and coming up empty on a permanent location, that isn’t where the temporary shelter is now. The mayor has acknowledged that people will be unhappy regardless of where the permanent shelter goes.

As I noted in previous columns, it is ultimately the job of elected officials to make tough decisions that not everybody will like but are in the best interest of the community’s long-term health.

It feels a bit like this council knows that if they do make an unpopular decision in this case, it might spell the end of their time on council. It is such a delicate file, one that almost every major city in the country is grappling with, and few have found solutions that are popular or celebrated by the masses.

All this can seem like a burden, but to me, it is an opportunity — an opportunity to be innovative and creative in finding a solution that can actually help the unhoused population and make the community a better place at the same time.

If I had that grand idea, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this column.

I think this council has an opportunity to show the rest of the province and the country that we are innovators, we are helpers and in all that, the city is still desirable, healthy and thriving.

Maybe that’s too idyllic of a look at all this, but what’s life without a little optimism?

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and a Regional Editor with Black Press Media.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
Read more