A new program in Red Deer designed to find permanent housing for homeless youth is slated to get underway this fall.
On Monday, city council gave the go ahead to the Community Housing Advisory Board to allocate $124,344 in grant funding to the McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association to operate the new year-long pilot.
Starting in October, four to five youth between the ages of 16 and 24 will be housed in the regular market housing.
“We do a pretty good job in the community for 18 to 24 year olds,” said Roxana Nielsen-Stewart, the city’s social planning supervisor. “Our largest gap right now is 16 to 17-year-olds. But again sometimes a 19-year-old would work better in a program that is more specific to him than to a generalized adult program.”
Nielsen-Stewart told council that youth between the ages of 16 and 17 cannot legally sign leases so they must look at creative ways to support those individuals.
While specific details on the Housing First program are still being worked out, Nielsen-Stewart said an agency may sign a master lease to an apartment and sub-lease to a youth.
“It’s an exciting start,” she said.
“We’re focusing on youth homelessness now. We will be doing more on youth homelessness because we want to break that cycle before it becomes entrenched.”
She said the first goal working with any youth is to re-connect then with their family of origin or family of choice. Recent statistics say 81 per cent to 86 per cent of homeless youth reconnect with their family.
“In some cases that is not the route available to them,” she said. “Then we will work on housing.”
The city’s Point in Time homeless count revealed that 37.1 per cent of the people enumerated were homeless youth under the age of 25.
The next Point in Time homeless count is slated for Oct. 16.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes asked about the small number of participants in the pilot when there is clearly the need for more.
Dustin Lendvay, Community Housing Advisory Board chairman said they want to ensure the pilot project works before considering expanding it. Lendvay said there’s a similar program Calgary. The city is also keeping an eye on a similar program in Lethbridge.
Several councillors said they felt good about the pilot’s targeted outcomes that include demonstration of the youth’s ability to stay housed, have a stable income source and improved access to learning, training and education programs.
Coun. Lawrence Lee said he hopes that the youth’s educational needs will be a component in the program. He said it would exponentially increase the youth’s opportunities to integrate back into the community.
Coun. Ken Johnston said the city and society as a whole pays a heavy price for homelessness, health care, crime prevention and lost opportunity. He called the pilot a tremendous opportunity to try a model that hopefully youth can progress under.
The Red Deer Youth Homelessness Strategy Group, made up of agencies that work with youth, will be instrumental in ensuring the right youth are in the program. For the pilot, homeless youth are defined as those without a permanent place, live on the street or are couch surfing.
The program is voluntary but youth must agree to participate in case management supports.
The program is expected to begin on Oct. 1 and run for a year.
In other council news:
— Twelve additional mats will be available for homeless people to sleep during the cold months through the Safe Harbour Society’s Winter Inn program this winter.
Council approved $13,000 for the program at People’s Place between Nov. 1, 2014 and April 30, 2015. The money will be used for a part-time position and supplies. This will bring the mat count to 47 spaces.
People’s Place operates in the basement of Loaves and Fishes, at 6002 54th Ave.
— The Central Alberta Theatre’s efforts to rename the Red Deer Memorial Centre to the Memorial Arts Centre were quashed on Monday.
Council voted unanimously to retain the Memorial Centre name saying the city made a promise to the veterans and it must remain faithful and retain its historic name.
A report prepared by administration cited that the proposed name change would imply a memorial to the arts rather than to the veterans and a war memorial to the veterans outweighs the desire to enhance the marketability of the building.
Community members and veterans’ group wrote letters and emails opposing the name change.
Debbie Perepelitza wrote, “to truly represent the people of Red Deer (past, present and future), it is your absolute responsibility to vote against this action. We need to be proud of and honour our people, heritage and our city.”
Mayor Tara Veer said it is imperative that the city remember, honour and protect this significant part of history.
Councillors Lynne Mulder and Buck Buchanan went further to say more should be done to pay tribute to the veterans at the centre.
Coun. Lawrence Lee said this name depicted historically a time of how the country developed.
“Often we do not reflect enough upon the past and recognize the past has forged our future and ensure the lives we have and the lifestyles we live,” said Lee.
— Call it the sign of the times.
Plans to modernize Red Deer College’s City Centre Stage building sign at 4922-49th Street moved a cautious step forward.
Council passed first reading of an amendment that would allow two “dynamic” flashing signs to be placed on the existing canopy sign.
Some councillors raised concerns about disturbing the heritage feel of the Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue area and the potential impacts on businesses. They wanted to hear more from the public. The site is not designated under the land use bylaw as a heritage site and no third party advertising would be permitted.
A public hearing on the proposed Land Use Bylaw Site Exception Amendment is slated for Sept. 2.
l Plans to build a new neighbourhood and a site for three new high schools in northeast Red Deer moved forward on Monday. Council passed first reading of bylaws to incorporate Section 26, Multi Neighbourhood Plan in the East Hill Major Area Structure Plan and the Northeast High Schools and Play Fields Area Structure Plan.
A public hearing on the proposed changes will be held on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. in council chambers.