Monday will be the final day of the season for Red Deer's homeless to access the warming centre at Safe Harbour.
While it's fortunate that temperatures have spiked over the last week, that doesn’t mean everything is all good until it gets cold again.
"This population doesn't particularly feel welcomed elsewhere,” says Tricia Haggarty-Roberts, Director of Operations at Safe Harbour Society. “Losing this program means we also lose connections with some individuals who are just going to camp and sleep rough. Hopefully we can keep them connected next season when they come back."
The warming centre re-opened last November 1 for what was the beginning of a third winter season for the facility. Red Deer city council approved its opening again last summer and Safe Harbour has permission to operate it for one more season before something has to give.
Haggarty-Roberts says the centre saw between 80 and 100 people daily over the last several months.
“The warming centre is a stop-gap measure. It’s very much needed, and from our perspective, it needs to be more of a permanent program, embedded within a larger purpose-built 24-hour shelter,” she says.
Also known as Safe Harbour’s ‘First Mate,’ Haggarty-Roberts says there’s hope for such a shelter given the province’s ask for expressions of interest last year was the first time the Alberta Government had made such a request since the 1980s.
Safe Harbour did submit a letter outlining the local needs, but nothing was announced in the latest provincial budget.
What will happen over the summer months, she says, is regulars of the warming centre will take to areas like Little Gaetz and city parks, while some will wind up sleeping in camps. City council approved $300,000 in 2018 to clean those camps up, something the First Mate isn’t sold on.
“Does that mean those individuals are housed or we're just moving them to another spot and next week we'll be doing the same thing? $300,000 to just move camps around the city doesnt seem like the most effective use of our tax dollars,” she says.
“However, if we encounter individuals in the camps who are homeless and we could link them to healthier options, we can build that relationship and perhaps get them into housing.”
Late last year, city council also gave the go-ahead for Safe Harbour to open up 20 AHS-funded overflow beds in its MATS program.
Those were necessary, Haggarty-Roberts says, largely due to the opioid crisis. The overflow wasn't used every night, but did come in handy on many. She says something similar may have to happen next winter if things don't change.
The warming centre will re-open for one more witner season on November 1, 2018.
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