Edmonton

Long-awaited emergency shelter coming to Red Deer

The Alberta government is funding the creation of an emergency shelter in Red Deer, a service some in the city agree is desperately needed.

‘We have to have a facility that can welcome everybody'

The funding for the current warming centre and overnight overflow in Red Deer will run out on March 31. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The Alberta government is funding the creation of an emergency shelter in Red Deer, a service some in the city agree is desperately needed.

The province confirmed the news in an emailed statement from Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir on Friday, but didn't say when it would be opening.

"After consulting with community leaders and city council members, we will be investing in an emergency shelter for Red Deer," Sabir said in the statement.

This decision comes after five years of advocating the province for a 24-hour shelter, said Tara Veer, mayor of Red Deer.

"Historically, the city of Red Deer has been one of the most underfunded per capita for shelter," Veer said. 

She noted the demand for shelter has increased over the past year and has reached a "crisis point" for the community.

"We have between 60 to 80 rough sleeper camps that have emerged in our park system," Veer said.

"It's important that we're connecting the individuals in those camps to appropriate shelter and support."

Filling the gap

The province is finalizing details surrounding the emergency shelter and more information will be available in the coming weeks. 

It's unclear whether the emergency shelter will operate 24 hours a day. But that's something the city needs — there's never been one that operates around the clock in the community, said Safe Harbour Society executive director Kath Hoffman.

Safe Harbour Society operates the mats program overnight shelter and a daytime warming centre in Red Deer.

The mats program has 26 beds for people who are intoxicated. In addition to those options, The Mustard Seed offers overnight shelter for people who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

Red Deer resident Marie Myers says having a shelter open around the clock is of great importance because of the large number of homeless people in the city. (Red Deer Point in Time Count)

This winter, Safe Harbour decided to open the warming centre at night and provide mats on the floor as overflow space for people to sleep and stay warm. That service operates in three ATCO trailers in the Safe Harbour parking lot, shared with the new Overdose Prevention Site.

"There are between 100 and 125 people going in and out [of the warming centre] throughout the day, and in the evenings there are over 20 people sleeping there," Hoffman said.

But the funding for the warming centre and overnight overflow will run out on Mar. 31. A new emergency shelter would fill that gap.

"What we need to do is have a purpose-built facility that can welcome people appropriately," Hoffman said.

There are two levels of vulnerable people that are being served by the shelters, she said: those who are actively using drugs and those who aren't.

Some people may not want to use the warming centre because of concerns of behaviour in there, Hoffman said.

"We have to have a facility that can welcome everybody appropriately and respectfully."

Between 100 and 125 people come and go from the current warming centre throughout the day. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Marie Myers lives in Red Deer and regularly uses the current shelter services. Not having a 24-hour shelter in the city "affects everything," she said.

"I have frostbite on my hands and things like that. [Shelter] is definitely important and there's definitely a lack of it here in Red Deer," Myers said. 

Having a shelter open for 24 hours is of "great importance" because of the large number of homeless people in the city, she said.

When the shelters are full, she doesn't have anywhere else to go.

"You fend for yourself," Myers said. "There's really no contingency plan."

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