A man nearly froze to death in the City’s downtown over the weekend as temperatures plummeted. The man, who has not been identified, was reportedly found in the downtown area and taken to Red Deer Regional Hospital for treatment.
Kath Hoffman, executive director at Safe Harbour, said the incident is an unfortunate one, but it is not reflective on the amount of beds available for shelter in the City.
Last fall, due to changes in funding direction and local zoning requirements of the downtown core, the Winter Inn, a temporary shelter program offered during the colder months, did not open its doors. The program has been operating since 2007 by Safe Harbour Society.
However to help make up the shortfall, beds have been increased at People’s Place and the Mats program at Safe Harbour to compensate for the loss of the program. There are currently 35 year-round beds, up from 23 beds in previous years at People’s Place and 26 beds, up from 20 beds at the Mats program, which is an overnight shelter for individuals who are high or intoxicated.
“The person (found this weekend) was not someone who was trying to access shelter,” she said. “Had they tried there would have been a bed available for him. Even though it was pretty cold we had room for people through this past weekend.”
Hoffman said officials are determining whether more shelters in Red Deer are needed.
“We’re watching that very closely this year. The increase in beds will tell us how we are doing,” she said. “It’s been bitterly cold and we’ve had lots of cold temperatures to gauge that and so far the only real turn-aways we’ve had is if someone has shown up at People’s Place and needs to get to Mats instead, but we have been able to accommodate them.
“We don’t know what the right number is (in terms of beds) and we’re working closely with the City on that and our other community partners to ensure we do have adequate shelter.”
She added when the temperatures plummet often times people have more compassion when it comes to those living on the streets.
“With the weather as cold as it has been, our numbers go down and that’s typically because people’s hearts get opened up a little more. If someone is at their friend’s house, his friend isn’t so quick to kick him out.”
Meanwhile, Hoffman said Safe Harbour’s Mats program was born years ago after a homeless man froze to death in Rotary Park.
“The community agencies at the time got together and said that is not going to happen in Red Deer. When I think of that situation and compared to then, we have 26 spaces available for that particular gentleman (who was found in the downtown this past weekend) who need it. The unfortunate part of it is, was he aware? Did he have his wits with him enough to make his way anywhere? Typically if the RCMP see someone like that they are quick to pick them up and bring them to us, so who knows exactly what happened to have that be the result.
“But I am relieved to know that had he made it here (to the Mats program), we would have had a place for him.”