Housing options needed to reduce homelessness

While much has been done to reduce homelessness in Red Deer, the effort is being hampered by the lack of low-cost housing, says a local advocate. “With the plan to end homelessness, we’re only successful if we have more housing options,” said Stacey Carmichael, programs director of the Safe Harbour Society.

While much has been done to reduce homelessness in Red Deer, the effort is being hampered by the lack of low-cost housing, says a local advocate.

“With the plan to end homelessness, we’re only successful if we have more housing options,” said Stacey Carmichael, programs director of the Safe Harbour Society.

Just as the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter is having difficulty finding apartments for clients, so is Safe Harbour. Carmichael said she wants to “echo” the need for more lower-cost housing options for Red Deer. “The vacancy rate is so low, it’s a big challenge” to get people into their own apartments.

As far as scope of social problems go, this centrally located, mid-sized city has more in common with Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria than Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Yet “we just don’t have enough housing to get these guys in quick enough,” she added.

Looking back at 2014, Carmichael has seen the 35 full-time beds at the People’s Place shelter regularly fill up. Sometimes even the 11 additional beds that are made available during the winter months, from Nov. 1 to April 30, have been full.

“We’ve had to turn folks away on occasion,” she said — and this also holds true for the 26-spot mat program that Safe Harbour runs for homeless people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Those who must be turned away are asked if they can stay with a friend or sleep on a relative’s couch. But sometimes no solution can be found and the person has to walk back out into the cold. “Often when they leave, both the staff and the person are feeling defeated,” added Carmichael.

Strides have been made towards finding appropriate housing for homeless people, such as the Housing First suites at the Buffalo in downtown Red Deer, and the one duplex and four shared-living houses operated around the city by the Safe Harbour Society.

Carmichael stressed she’s “proud” of local and provincial efforts, saying “Alberta is leaps and bounds ahead of what’s being done in a lot of other provinces.”

But Red Deer’s population continues to grow.

As some housing is found to get people off the streets, Carmichael is seeing other people become homeless for a variety of reasons: addictions, mental health issues, domestic abuse or relationship breakdowns. “We’d like to see them be homeless for as short a time as possible.”

Discussions were held last fall for the City of Red Deer’s housing options framework, but an action plan is yet to come. Local advocates, meanwhile, are calling for a range of new local affordable housing options — from bachelor apartments to one-, two- or three-bedroom suites for families.

Carmichael believes it will take creativity (such as converting available buildings into housing), incentives to spur new development, and flexibility with city zoning and bylaws to solve the problem.

It would be nice if something happens in the new year, she added, “because everybody needs an affordable place to live.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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