City of Red Deer rejects downtown homeless shelter, searches for lot

Red Deer’s city council says the temporary homeless shelter can't stay downtown, and that means the province's plans for a permanent shelter are now on hold.

'We're not heartless,' city councillor says

Red Deer's temporary homeless shelter must leave its downtown location. (Heather Marcoux/CBC News )

CBC Edmonton and CBC Calgary have teamed up to launch a pop-up Red Deer bureau to help us tell your stories from central Alberta. For the next month, reporter Heather Marcoux will bring you the news from Red Deer and the surrounding area. Story ideas and tips can be sent to heather.marcoux@cbc.ca.

Red Deer city council says a temporary homeless shelter must move by Sept. 30, but the facility has nowhere to go.

At a meeting this week, council directed administration to bring back a report exploring options for the purchase of a site for a permanent shelter. The province says plans for a permanent shelter can't proceed until the city finds a new location.

Councillors defeated a motion to let the temporary shelter remain open until a permanent shelter is ready to open.

Safe Harbour, the organization that runs the shelter, currently operates out of the former Cannery Row building downtown.

The space is across the street from Red Deer's only overdose prevention site and has been the subject of numerous complaints, although it is unclear if all complaints of vandalism, litter and other social disorder issues can be attributed to shelter users.

Kath Hoffman, Safe Harbour's executive director, said the organization plans to make a statement to the community regarding the "grave matter" of the shelter's future later this month, as any plans for the future have now been upended.

"Safe Harbour Society is currently in the process of strategizing our next steps in response to council's recent decision," Hoffman said in a statement to CBC News.

The shelter serves more than 100 people per day through drop-in services and shelters up to 60 sleepers at night. 

Back in March, council gave the shelter a two-month deadline to get out of downtown, citing concerns from the community and downtown business owners.

In May, another extension was granted as alternative locations were sought but not secured. The shelter's current landlord was the only property owner to respond to the city's call for interest in leasing to the shelter. 

Coun. Frank Wong suggested the city investigate buying an industrial lot while awaiting the permanent shelter project promised by the province, a project that is still years away from being complete. 

"I don't know why it's going to take two or three more years," Wong said in an interview. "The NDP already promised this before. The UCP, they're going to do a so-called treatment centre in the north end of the city, but that's supposed to be open now."

Wong said "everything that was promised was late" and action is needed now to ensure homeless Red Deer residents don't have to sleep outdoors this winter.

Province 'disappointed'

Meanwhile, the province says its plans for a permanent shelter, which had been expected to be complete this summer, are now in a holding pattern.

Rob Williams, press secretary to Rajan Sawhney, minister of community and social services, called council's decision disappointing.

"Unhoused people in Red Deer deserve a place that keeps them safe," Williams said in an email. "The time is now for community leaders to create a viable plan to support Red Deer's most vulnerable."

The province has provided $7 million in capital funding for a new shelter, Williams said. "We look forward to seeing what council comes up with and we'll continue to engage with them on this subject." 

Coun. Vesna Higham commended the province on its plans to address homelessness and addiction, and said more co-operation is needed from those who use the shelter. She would like to see a curfew imposed, and suggested shelter users be responsible for picking up garbage around the site before entering.

"We're not heartless," Higham said. "Vulnerable people need assistance, and we have a duty of care. But we have to strike a balance between that duty of care to our vulnerable and the rights and needs of the rest of the community to live, work and play and recreate in the downtown."