Helping the homeless

To the Red Deer city council and a number of compassionate groups that have taken the tiger by the tail in helping the homeless.

To the Red Deer city council and a number of compassionate groups that have taken the tiger by the tail in helping the homeless.

A recent article in the Advocate declared: “When it comes to helping people who are homeless, Red Deer means business.”

This was not an exaggeration; it is a fact. Municipalities across Canada should look at Red Deer as a model community that refuses to rest its fanny on a bureaucratic cushion, pondering what should be done about one of the most serious social problems haunting this nation today.

Red Deer has demonstrated aggressive, affirmative action in addressing its homeless situation, resulting in phenomenal success in a short period of time.

A mere seven weeks ago, Red Deer city council approved a five-year plan towards ending homelessness, appropriately called EveryOne’s Home. Since then, a new youth overnight shelter, night-time outreach teams and a 24-hour shelter for homeless with the flu are operating as pilot projects.

And more plans are in the making, including the development of 500 affordable housing options within the next five years. Access to support groups is another goal. Further, the Piper Creek Foundation has applied for provincial funding to build more affordable housing for senior citizens, half of whom (about 3,000) are living on incomes of less than $27,000 a year.

These efforts speak volumes about the character of this city for its relentless giving and compassion. And at this time of the year, so close to the festive season, it is safe to assume that Christmas has come early for so many of our needy.

This is starting to sound like a broken record in Central Alberta, but once again a dart to the Neanderthals behind the throttles of ATVs, ripping up the countryside like the Tasmanian Devil on steroids.

When will the message finally sink in to some of these brain-challenged boobs that they’re scarring the reputation of responsible quad-riders? Landowners are fed up.

Recently, Sylvan Lake farmer Dennis Duncan reported a loss of $5,000 off the top of his 2009 canola crop after ATV riders went ripping through his fields. It is not been a first time.

To add insult to injury, a sign Duncan posted on his property warning trespassers to stay away was stolen — post and all. No doubt that souvenir will be proudly displayed in some ATV rider’s basement where all his/her drunken buddies can hoist a drink to “a job well done” and laugh hysterically.

Duncan is rightfully frustrated. Fencing his property is not an option because of high costs and because the worst of the offending riders carry fence cutters with them and rip onto the property once the barriers have been snipped. That’s the same with trespassing snowmobilers in the winter on rural properties.

The problem for rural landowners is that by the time the crime has been discovered and reported, the damage is done and the only evidence is a cut fence and tracks. In the rural community, given the distance police must respond, dialling 911 for assistance in emergencies is akin to Dial-A-Prayer.

Lacombe county Councillor Keith Stephenson reports an increased population of recreational riders, especially around the shorelines of Gull and Sylvan Lakes, damaging crops and destroying sensitive environmental areas.

Guaranteed, these incidents will escalate in rural communities — as they have in the West Country.

What’s demanded are no-nonsense laws: Mandatory registration, insurance, an ATV operator’s licence, licence plates as large as motor vehicles’ and well-illuminated with tail lights for easy identification.

As well, a mandatory permit allowing a designated route of approved travel, which could include routes off the beaten track but only granted by affected landowners in writing. For the West Country, a mandatory permit for travelling on designated Crown properties.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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