Red Deer’s vulnerable residents will have a safe place to go this winter in Railyards.
Safe Harbour Society will operate a temporary daytime warming centre between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the northwest corner of its site on 5256-53rd Avenue.
Council approved on Monday a development permit that allows the addition of a modular unit between November and April for the next two years.
Colleen Fisher, Safe Harbour Society board chair, said this was not the society’s first choice but she is pleased a temporary site for Red Deer’s vulnerable has been solidified as they work on a long-term solution to help the city’s street populations.
“Winter is not a pop-up event,” she said. “We know it’s going to be here. We want to be sure that we will be ready to be able to address the issues that are needed.”
The society felt the old Parks building in Riverlands would be a better location because everything was already there including washrooms, showers and lockers. But council nixed the recommendation after some backlash from the neighbouring businesses.
Councillors Frank Wong and Lynne Mulder unsuccessfully tried to sway council to reconsider the first recommendation after hearing from Fisher and Kath Hoffman, Safe Harbour’s executive director.
Council reasoned there was not enough new information to bring the first recommendation back to the table.
Mayor Tara Veer said an interim solution is needed until the city can accomplish the broad community objectives in its plan to end homelessness and there is enough affordable housing.
Veer said shelter space falls under the provincial government’s mandate not under the municipal government.
“It is very clear we have an ethical responsibility,” she said. “We need to make it very clear as Alberta’s third largest city, our provincial government has financial responsibilities for this provision that we have navigated through. I would like to thank our … city staff and the community who are rallying behind this. I think that Edmonton and Calgary … have all received direct funds from the provincial government for accommodations of their shelter space.”
The city will ask the province to reimburse the municipality $628,200 for both the operating and capital costs and a reimbursement in the city manger’s capital fund and the city’s housing solutions fund. Council approved new capital funding to purchase and install the units to the tune of $158,000 and another $79,100 in operating costs for each of the two years.
City Manager Craig Curtis echoed the mayor’s sentiments about this being an interim solution and looking to the future.
“We have two years to find a longer-term solution, one that accompanies 24-hour service (and) one that really deals with the problem,” he said. “We have to say the past provincial governments, in my view, have abdicated their responsibility to this necessary step in the housing spectrum.”
The three-interconnected modulars, expected to arrive in six-to-eight weeks, will have enough room to serve about 80 people. In 2014-15, roughly 455 individuals used the warming centre in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Safe Harbour expects 20 to 40 people to use the warming centre everyday. Food services will not be provided on site but there will be free coffee, tea, water, energy bars and juice.
The modulars will be situated so staff can have clear sight lines to oversee the entire property. Access will be from 53rd Avenue. Three employees will be working at the warming centre throughout the day.
The proposed use is temporary and the building will remain on the site year round. The temporary use will expire in April 2017.
Berachah Place closed last year after nine years which left the city and the community scrambling to find a temporary warm place for homeless people to go in the winter.