Red Deer homeless shelter renews fight to keep downtown facility open past September

The organization running Red Deer's temporary homeless shelter is bringing the matter back to city council.

'They think that maybe all their problems will go away if the shelter goes away,' Safe Harbour's head says

Safe Harbour, the organization that runs Red Deer's temporary shelter, currently operates out of the former Cannery Row building downtown. (Heather Marcoux/CBC )

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The organization running Red Deer's homeless shelter continues to fight to keep its downtown shelter open beyond September 30. 

Last month, Red Deer's city council defeated a motion to let the temporary shelter in the former Cannery Row building remain open until a permanent shelter is ready, citing complaints about drug use, litter and social disorder from downtown businesses. 

In a Facebook Live on Tuesday, Kath Hoffman, Safe Harbour's executive director, said the previous application was made by the city, not Safe Harbour, giving the organization another chance at bringing the matter back to council. 

"They want the shelter to be out of the downtown," Hoffman said. "They think that maybe all their problems will go away if the shelter goes away." 

Council has not yet decided on what will replace Safe Harbour but has asked administration to find lots that could be used as temporary shelter locations.

Hoffman said the solution to social disorder in Red Deer's downtown core has turned into a divisive issue. 

"People are angry about it and I'm angry, too," she said. "It gets displaced, that anger, and it's been displaced on us." 

Hoffman says the core of the problem isn't the shelter, but rather a historical social infrastructure deficit in Red Deer. 

"This crisis started showing itself in probably 2016 around Red Deer. We still haven't caught up. So that's what we're paying for, that's what's happening," said Hoffman. 

Catching up 

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said Red Deer is witnessing what happens to a growing community when social infrastructure isn't put in place at the right time. 

"I've said it for many years — Red Deer truly for many years has had a health and social infrastructure deficit. And a lot of the consequences are manifestations that we see in our community," said Veer. 

Veer noted Red Deer has secured provincial funding for a permanent homeless shelter, an addiction recovery community, the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and a drug treatment court.

"In that sense, we're making progress. But all of those projects are at various stages," said Veer. 

Shelter 'needs to be a fairly central location'

If the Safe Harbour shelter closes, as many as 60 people will have nowhere to sleep, a possibility that would affect other social service providers. 

Byron Bradley is the managing director for the Mustard Seed in central Alberta. The Christian non-profit organization has been operating in Red Deer for five years and can shelter up to 46 people per night. But the Mustard Seed has different criteria than Safe Harbour.

"Part of the entrance criteria to come in is you cannot have used any alcohol or drugs during the daytime," said Bradley. "If they have, we will refer them to our friends over at Safe Harbour."

The Mustard Seed is about a 14-minute walk from the Safe Harbour shelter.  Bradley says Red Deer's main shelter "needs to be in a fairly central location" to allow users to move between social agencies and maintain access to other community supports downtown.