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HACKETT: Red Deer failed yet again in latest shelter announcement

One hundred and four.

One hundred and four.

And not one will work.

How? How is that possible?

The City of Red Deer announced Friday that it could not name a new shelter location after a 14-month search– a process that included a complex “matrix” that wasn’t easy to explain, closed-door meetings that often left the public in the dark and a willingness to shift the blame to the province.

“Don’t let that disappointment stall you or bring you down,” Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said.

then adding:

“This is a temporary obstacle, not the end of the journey for us.”

I’m not ashamed to admit I voted for Johnston, I thought he was the best person for the job and somebody that would lead this city forward. I still think he can be a great leader, but I’m having trouble believing that right now.

My confidence is shaken by this most recent decision, as the city seemingly travelled down a path to nowhere, wasting tax dollars, all to come up with a giant nothing burger in terms of a possible shelter location.

In his remarks during a press conference Friday, Johnston also remarked that his vision is that Red Deer will be a leader in shelter provision in the province.

How is anyone supposed to believe that promise if, in 14 months, council can’t even select a location for a shelter? And yes, they did select three sites technically, but if those sites didn’t work, we are no further along than we were 14 months ago when they embarked on this ambitious project.

They had 104 options and they picked three that didn’t work. Surely in all the matrixes that were drawn up, somebody could have pointed out that the province wouldn’t like a shelter close to its other services or that a private landowner may not want to sell their land in order to have a shelter put there. Surely, over the past 14 months somebody had to raise that possibility. Nobody should have been naive enough to believe that some Nibyism wouldn’t play out here. It was in every report the city produced. It was brought up in every public consultation, by every organization, business and citizen that talked about the shelter.

With that in mind, the city already had the information that people would be upset, regardless of where the shelter goes. There is no opportunity to avoid a blowback on this one, unfortunately.

But to punt the decision down the road, you are hurting our most vulnerable citizens, leaving them without the resources they need to survive. That’s the crucial element here that gets lost in the matrixes and the posturing, is that there are real people suffering in this city and nobody cares enough to make a bold decision, that will undoubtedly piss some people off, to help those who really need it.

Yet here we are, trying to roll a boulder up a hill.

It is a slap in the face to all Red Deerians who want to heed Johnson’s vision that Red Deer will be a leader in shelter provisions in the province.

Stuck in the mud, moving backward doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t inspire confidence. It doesn’t show a bold vision, if anything it shows a lack of vision or innovation, that out of 100 choices, not one was suitable.

I’m sorry, but you can’t lead without being bold – Without making decisions that will disappoint some people or upset others. Being bold and being a leader means that you take steps that others are not willing to take, in order to pave the way for future generations. That does not happen when you refuse to take action.

When you are hesitant to take action, you look to blame others for your failures or inaction, that does not make you a leader.

“I know it feels like we hit a wall, but we are not heading back to square one,” said Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon.

Where else is there to go minister?

Just in September, three to five sites were selected, one was rejected by the province and another the city failed to negotiate with the landowner.

How is it possible to not go back to square one? Where else can you go, but back to the beginning? To the fifth and sixth and 10th and 11th choice? Which were obviously not considered in the final choice because of their shortfalls?

They obviously didn’t fit the “matrix” that the city had used or they would have been the first choice. When they do eventually select a site, will citizens have confidence in the site if it didn’t fit the criteria in the first place?

Without directly saying it, the mayor alluded to the fact that the most recent site was on private land, it wasn’t even considered whether the owner of the land would WANT a shelter on their land. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??

Why on earth would you select a site and put it forward to the province if there was even a chance the land wouldn’t be available? How does that not fit into the matrix?

“Nobody had a bigger wish for a shelter than council,” said the mayor.

All the work, all the hours, all the time, apparently wasted on a site that they didn’t even know if someone would want to sell it to them?

How is that not considered in the process? How did nobody bring up the idea that a private landowner may not want shelter on their land? How is that not obvious?

These are questions that council should dutifully answer, in a transparent and open audit of the process of the last 14 months, because they have clearly failed Red Deerians.

And frankly, failed themselves if this is something they truly believe in, as the mayor promised on the campaign trail and promised again Friday.

At this point, mayor and council are a bit like the boy who cried wolf when it comes to the shelter. You want to believe they have the best intentions, but they have consistently overpromised and under-delivered on this project.

And now a new deadline looms. Red Deer’s temporary homeless shelter has been allowed to keep operating at the former Cannery Row bingo site until Feb. 1, 2024.

So the city essentially has another year, before they have to make yet another decision that will complicate the process.

I pled with the mayor and council to be bold. Be leaders.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

Byron has been the sports reporter at the advocate since December of 2016. He likes to spend his time in cold hockey arenas accompanied by luke warm, watered down coffee.
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