Search underway for future site of Red Deer’s permanent homeless shelter

The City of Red Deer is encouraging residents, business owners and non-profit agencies that serve the community’s homeless population to provide feedback as the city considers where to put a new homeless shelter — after council’s earlier suggestion didn’t go over well.

Earlier this year, city officials proposed a downtown site, at 4934 54th Avenue.

But some nearby property and business owners opposed it, saying it was too close to an existing temporary emergency shelter. That’s run by the Safe Harbour Society, which the new facility is expected to replace.

Safe Harbour serves clients who are high on drugs or intoxicated and have no where to live. Staff say they average 60 to 80 people per night.

“Right now, the neighbourhood around Safe Harbour has said, ‘hey, enough” — and that that’s OK as long as we find a place that works,” said Kath Hoffman, executive director of the Safe Harbour shelter.

‘Huge relief’

Safe Harbour has been operating as an emergency shelter and providing detox services on the outskirts of the city’s downtown for 20 years.

In 2015, three trailers were added to the site to meet the needs of the community. 

Later, an overdose prevention site opened on the same lot as Safe Harbour.

We are not heartless, but we just don’t want to see our downtown and our city trashed, or our businesses, and we just want to find the proper solution.– Tracy Chabot, business owner

Then when COVID hit, the shelter was moved to a larger building just across the street.

Since then, the province and the community have been preparing for a permanent housing-focused shelter program designed to better meet the needs of the clients and community.

“It’s a huge relief — and not just for us — but more importantly for the people that we’re serving.… They’re getting kind of bounced around like a tennis ball back and forth right now, and nobody wants them,” said Hoffman.

‘We are not heartless’

Red Deer resident and entrepreneur Tracy Chabot owns and leases a couple of commercial spaces near the Safe Harbour shelter.

She says that since Safe Harbour moved to a larger building two years ago, she and her tenants have noticed constant needle debris, open drug use and break-ins. She says revenues have declined because people are too scared to frequent the area.

“I can only describe it as a nightmare,” said Chabot.

At one point, Chabot says, she kept track of the number of vulnerable people whom she escorted off her property: 70 between September and November 2021.

“We are not heartless, but we just don’t want to see our downtown and our city trashed, or our businesses, and we just want to find the proper solution,” said Chabot.

Must work together

Chabot says she’s open to working with Safe Harbour and other social agencies to find the right location.

Hoffman agrees the only way to find a workable solution is for the community to come together.

“Even if we don’t like the reality, we got to make solutions for it because it’s here, it’s real,” said Hoffman.

The province has committed $7 million to build the homeless shelter, which will house about 160 beds.

The province says it will work with its partners to ensure the design and construction of the shelter is informed by best practices and that it meets the needs of people struggling with homelessness.

City residents will have the opportunity online and in person to share their input on the permanent shelter site until June 10.

The city will be hosting six in-person opportunities for the community to share their input.

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