Council earmarks $100,000 for homeless shelter study

A new shelter for the city’s homeless is in the works for Red Deer.

A new shelter for the city’s homeless is in the works for Red Deer.

Council approved $100,000 for a study that will delve into addressing the long-term shelter needs as part the 2016 operating budget on Tuesday.

It was a decision that was not taken lightly as council showed its continued frustration with the province’s lack of leadership on addressing the crucial social issue.

Housing falls under the provincial mandate but there are no existing funding programs that address the growing capital needs in the city.

But council was quick to point out the province can expect a $100,000 bill in the mail. The city has already remitted $650,000, the costs associated with the daytime warming centre, to the province.

The city has not received a formal response.

Mayor Tara Veer said the objective in the province’s 10-year plan to end homelessness is to ensure people are in sufficient housing through affordable housing. Veer said the clear gap in the plan is that the province does not recognize capital funding or allocations for shelter space.

“As much as we do not want to entrench people in shelter space, the fact of the matter is our community has said loud and clear we have an ethical responsibility to look after the vulnerable among us,” said Veer. “(This) ultimately means we need safe and adequate provision for shelter space.”

Veer said the province has been abdicating this responsibility for many years.

“I take very strong exception to the fact as Alberta’s third largest city, Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge have all received direct capital provincial funding to resolve their shelter issues,” said Veer.

She said they have to move past Band-Aid solutions which is the position that Red Deer is forced into.

“It is no longer an emerging issue,” she said. “It is a critical issue that needs to be addressed once and for all.”

Coun. Lawrence Lee said this is a provincial responsibility that the city is taking over. He called out the city’s two MLAs asking them to step up and follow through on promises to work on “one of the closest things to their hearts.”

“I hope they aren’t empty promises,” said Lee. “I hope they aren’t empty words . . . You have to be strong and have the backbone and stand up to your legislature and say this is what we need to do here in Red Deer because Red Deer is doing it on your behalf.”

City manager Craig Curtis said the response from the city’s two MLAs has been highly supportive but the overall provincial direction has been lacking.

Curtis said taking this expenditure from city funds is not ideal but the city feels with the lack of leadership being shown in this area by the provincial government that something has to be done.

“We have to begin to lead and begin to work with our community to develop some sort of strategy to resolve this,” said Curtis.

Curtis told council the shelter issue in the community has been handled on a ad hoc level which has been sufficient but the funding has not followed suit. He said this is a planning issue that the city will begin to lead and co-ordinate. How it will unfold is difficult to to say at this stage.

“If we don’t get this in place we will end up spending more dollars trying to resolve short term problems than trying to find a longer term solution,” said Curtis.

Curtis said the process will begin with conversations with the community stakeholders and work towards building a purpose-built shelter facility that would be funded by the provincial government that would bring shelter and wraparound services into a single location.

The two-year initiative will address site selection, supports programming planning, facility designs and cost.

Council heard the current shelter, People’s Place, no longer meets the community demand, is not accessible and requires significant upgrades.

Council also directed administration to develop a report identifying the provincial funding gaps in order to strategize its advocacy efforts.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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