Fellow Red Deerians,
We have all had a growing awareness that Red Deer is faced with substantial, complex social and safety challenges, but over the past few months, and in the last several weeks in particular, our community has reached a new level of polarity, with the consequences of the social, health and safety challenges we are facing together becoming more evident.
Our country is faced with a national addictions crisis, one that is affecting every Canadian community. Our province continues to be plagued by the worst economic recession in four decades. Our Red Deer is, most unfortunately, not alone in the significant problems confronting our community, and the consequences of a national addictions crisis and deep economic recession are a reality on our community doorstep. Red Deer is a regional hub city, central on the QE2 corridor between two major Canadian urban centres, and this geographic fact intensifies the tensions that we are all experiencing.
We are all talking about these very real and devastating social challenges with family and friends, with our colleagues in our business downtown or elsewhere in our community, among partner agencies serving our vulnerable citizens, in the line-up while we run errands, among those seeking social supports and, most evidently, on social media.
There has been a visible shift in the displacement of the vulnerable, in illegal activity and social disorder, resulting in activities such as: rough sleeper camps, contaminated needle debris, graffiti, intimidating behaviors, and criminal activity, all of which are significant concerns for us all.
While the powers of any Mayor, Council or City administration are frustratingly limited to effectively address what are highly complex safety and social challenges, challenges that we see and experience with our fellow citizens, we are doing what we can to respond to these challenges within the powers and influence that we have. Some examples include:
Dedicated City teams to clean-up rough sleeper camps.
On-call 24 hour needle debris clean-up.
Dedicated downtown police foot patrols.
Proactive graffiti clean-up.
Daily clean-up of human waste, garbage, and other debris throughout downtown.
Temporary daytime warming services for the vulnerable.
￼The above are among other initiatives that are daily and definitive actions, not just “nice sounding” initiatives in a plan that remains on a government shelf. Local RCMP are working hard to target organized crime and drug trafficking, and we have staff actively working with local agencies to connect people experiencing homelessness in our community to the housing and supports they need. However, these initiatives deal with the consequences, not the root, of our community challenges.
The City of Red Deer accepts responsibility to do all that we can with the authorities we have in the interest of community safety for all. However, because the City’s authorities are limited, we ask our community to work with us in making change happen that will effectively address root issues, not simply continue to clean-up after the fact in an endless cycle, a cycle that is fueling community division and frustration.
Many of our citizens have asked us, “Why are we experiencing these challenges and why has it become worse?”, and, most importantly, “What are you doing about it?”. I mentioned above the national addictions crisis and Alberta’s ongoing recession as driving factors, and some of our current local responses to the crime, social disorder, health and social challenges they have resulted in.
But this only accounts for part of our local challenges. Our Council strongly contends, and we ask all people of our community alike regardless of social position or political persuasion to strongly advocate with us, and ask that the Provincial Government respond to our decade of community requests for: 24/7 shelter and associated supports, residential addictions treatment and sufficient funding for urban policing, and, in recent years, expanded Red Deer Regional Hospital health capacity and a provincial strategy to prevent the proliferation of contaminated needle debris.
We are Alberta’s third largest and central city, and a patchwork of “temporary” solutions are no longer sufficient to meet the needs of our community. The spillover of our social challenges throughout our park system, in the door wells and alleyways of downtown businesses, in private backyards and public sidewalks is in large part due to a decade of community advocacy for permanent solutions to challenges that have not yet been fully funded by the Provincial Government. We acknowledge and are thankful that we have had some successes with community advocacy on other issues, however we need Provincial Government support for long-term health and social infrastructure.
Red Deer City council, City administration, the many local agencies, partner organizations and concerned citizens that work so hard in our city every day will continue working to address the social watershed our community has arrived at. We know there are hardworking volunteers, agencies and organizations in our city who are doing everything they can, and we are grateful for your service. Together, we ask all our citizens to elevate your concerns to the province to prioritize our community social, health and safety needs:
Fund a 24/7 shelter and associated supports as one of our most urgent community needs.
Fully implement all four pillars of our local Community Drug and Alcohol Strategy (prevention, harms reduction, treatment and enforcement), and specifically to fund a long-term residential treatment centre that will serve Red Deer and Central Alberta.
Implement a needle exchange strategy to prevent proliferation of contaminated needle debris in our community that protects the safety of all citizens.
Provide enhanced police funding for urban municipalities.
Support the expansion of health services in Central Alberta, such as the expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital.
In the meantime, if you come across rough sleeper camps that need clean-up, please report at 403.343.5575. If you come across contaminated needle debris, please immediately call 403.342.8238.
In the coming weeks, Red Deer City council and the City of Red Deer will be formally reaching out to all Red Deerians to share information about actions underway and involve you in solutions to the social crisis facing our city. In the meantime, please know the City is working within our limited authorities and in partnership with local agencies, volunteers, and community organizations in the interests of community safety for all citizens.
We ask that you help us unify our community voice as we work through these challenges together.
-Mayor Tara Veer