City council funds more beds for emergency shelter

  • Oct. 29, 2014 3:07 p.m.

More overnight beds will be provided for the City’s homeless this winter.

City council approved additional funding to increase the overnight beds at the Winter Emergency Response shelter for the upcoming winter months.

Red Deer City council approved additional funding for Safe Harbour to operate a Winter Emergency Response shelter, which is housed at People’s Place. The funding approved Monday afternoon, totaling $32,427, will bring the total number of available beds up to 46 from 35.

The increased funding will also provide an additional eight hours of staffing and will allow for a staff member to be present for the entire 12 hours that the overnight shelter, which runs from Nov. 1st to April 30th, is open.

This is the second funding boost the program has gotten in recent months. In August, council approved $13,000 towards the program to provide four hours of staffing at that time.

“No one wakes up and decides they are going to sleep on the street and no one wakes up with the mindset that somehow being in this particular lifestyle is a hopeful one or one that does not lead to eventual destruction,” said Councillor Ken Johnston. “Essentially what we have here is an issue which municipalities continue to struggle with because the other partners in government are simply downloading this particular problem without adequate resources, without adequate funding, without adequate strategy. I know that folks in our social planning department and in our agencies in the City take no joy in coming to us every six months, 12 months, 10 months – whatever the case may be. But the reason is, there’s not a sustainable funding model and there is not genuine partnership at the table.”

Stacey Carmichael, program coordinator with Safe Harbour, said the Winter Emergency Shelter is full on a nightly basis.

“If we are full, our staff work to try and secure emergency social services, or problem solve with them and look at other options that might be available – a family member or friend they might not have considered,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that folks have to be turned away, but it’s all about problem solving.”

Safe Harbour also operates the MATS program which can accommodate 26 people nightly who are under the influence of a substance.

“That is typically at capacity – not all of the time but most of the time. It’s a challenge sometimes for staff to make sure those that are needing shelter the most – the most vulnerable – are getting in.”

With the closure of Berachah Place recently, the City’s homeless don’t have anywhere to go during the day in the upcoming winter months, Carmichael said.

“We don’t have the ability to provide a lot of storage for these folks and we don’t have a day shelter or a warming centre so to speak,” she said. “Loaves and Fishes provides some support throughout the day, but they are more of a meal program.

“It is a concern that there isn’t a resource where people can go. But we are optimistic that the community will come up with a solution at some point. We have a compassionate community.”

The number of homeless in the City each year is remaining consistent, Carmichael said. “It’s not the same people necessarily. We’re having great success in taking some of those longer term, more chronic folks and providing them with housing in our Housing First program. But that doesn’t change the fact that people are still becoming homeless.”

She added most of the homeless they see are from Red Deer or Central Alberta.

“At the end of the day in my opinion, it’s about having adequate housing,” said Carmichael. “We have programs in place and resources in place to house folks and that is the Housing First program.

“We are having great success with those programs and we are taking folks who have been homeless for the majority of their lives and who are living with major barriers – significant addictions and mental health issues – and we are seeing them housed. They have wonderful, clean apartments, their quality of life is improved – it’s amazing. But at the end of the day, there’s not enough housing.

“I know we have made huge progress with homelessness in general in our community and in our province. We have so many things to be proud of. But I know there is still a lot of work that needs to happen.”

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com

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