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RED DEER’S OPPORTUNITY FOR A NEW AND BETTER APPROACH FOR HOMELESSNESS AND ADDICTIONS

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Article submitted by Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan

Dear Friends,
There is a profound need in our community to have fairness for all – supporting our neighbors suffering under addictions, while respecting businesses and individuals working and families raising children in our City. This is a longer article; the issues at stake deserve nothing less.

A. Addiction Recovery Community

Last month, I joined my friends Minister LaGrange, our Mayor, the Infrastructure Minister and the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to break ground for an “Addiction Recovery Community” for Red Deer. Ours is the first under construction! This community will be located north of the City, off Highway 2A.

Earlier this year I visited the Thorpe Recovery Centre, west of Lloydminster, which also operates under this model. This is what I observed. No drugs. A place of safety and refuge, where those seeking recovery live for months making positive connections. Men and women from all walks of life supporting and encouraging each other in their individual paths towards recovery.

I attended a meeting with Thorpe residents. There was an honesty and vulnerability in those discussions that was both courageous and inspiring. Taking individual responsibility for one’s recovery while seeking to love and support others to do the same is heroic.

Red Deer is a special place; there are many families, churches, and organizations in our community that have desires to love and support our neighbours in their individual paths to recovery. This recovery community will increase opportunities to do so.

Addiction is a challenge of human nature. Success in this complex matter must begin with the end in mind: supporting and loving our neighbours to become free from addictions.

Please consider this question, if someone you loved was suffering under a drug addiction would you take them to a drug consumption site? No! You would love and support them, not in living in their addictions, but becoming free of them. This will become easier with our recovery community. Participants in recovery will experience transformative miracles in their lives, blessing themselves, healing their families and our communities. This is very exciting!

B. Overdose Prevention Site (OPS)

Red Deer did not ask for an OPS; the NDP imposed it on Red Deer, ignoring the concerns of civic leaders, local businesses, and families.

As a private citizen, prior to seeking to serve as an MLA, I attended packed town hall meetings at City Hall. The vast majority of townhall participants did not want an OPS in Red Deer. But this was not an option provided by NDP/AHS to civic leaders – their input was limited to not “if” there was an OPS, but “where”.

With input from citizens, City council said the OPS should be at the Hospital. But this choice was rejected on the basis that it was not safe! It appears that the NDP did not have the same concerns for families and businesses elsewhere.

The OPS has now been in our community for years and its impacts are evident for all to see. Let’s speak plainly and honesty. The OPS has become an attraction for individuals who are not from Red Deer, to come to our City, to live in drug addictions. Because of this drug consumption site, there are more, not less, suffering under addictions in Red Deer.

There is an exodus of businesses from our downtown. There is too much stealing, too much vandalizing, too much uncertainty for local businesses, their employees, their customers. The City has invested so much of our tax dollars seeking to revitalize our downtown. So much of this effort is being undermined by the OPS. Regardless of good intentions, the truth is that the OPS has facilitated a growing lawlessness, including embedding and emboldening criminal elements, which either abuse the OPS or prey on those living in addictions, some of whom support addiction lifestyles through stealing or robbing businesses and families in our community.

A prioritization on “harm reduction”, such as the OPS, has caused great collateral “harm expansion” to businesses and individuals in our community seeking to live their lives, working, and raising their families. One does not have to take a position on the substantive merits of an OPS to reach a good faith conclusion that not every community should be required to have an OPS. Red Deer is not a large city; we are becoming overwhelmed. The published report of the panel conducting the supervised consumption services review, listening to our community businesses and families, conclude that that the overall social and economic impact of Red Deer’s OPS is negative.

We have a new, elected city council with different experiences and competencies that can add much value and insight. If this Council wishes to reverse the NDP forcing an OPS on Red Deer, they need to speak unambiguously on this important matter. Such a position supports a substantial majority of individuals, families, and businesses in our community, and I sustain them.

Together we have an opportunity to support a fundamental course correction; focusing on healing and recovering, while providing opportunities for those who want to continue to use OPS services to transition to other communities that wish to continue with these services.

C. Integrated Shelter Service

Budget 2020 announced about $7 million for an integrated shelter service for Red Deer.

A new shelter service is an opportunity for a newer, better culture. Our shelter should be a place of hope where individuals receive support and opportunities to work towards moving out of shelter and towards self-reliance, including, as applicable, with invitations to access our new addiction recovery community. There are individuals working in our existing shelters who are seeking to love and
support their neighbors using shelter services. Let’s support their efforts to do even better!

But this is not all, this new shelter needs to be an accountable service, not only to the individuals it serves, but also as a good neighbour to families and businesses in our community. Many families and businesses in our community are very concerned with growing property and persons crimes, needle debris, and shelter camps and garbage in public spaces caused, in many cases, by adult users of current shelter services.

Properly implemented, an integrated shelter service is a great opportunity, to make an imperative course correction, better serving our homeless adult population, while repairing a frayed social fabric and distrust in our community; improperly implemented, this shelter will entrench an unacceptable status quo and exacerbate growing frustration in our community.

Minister LaGrange and I have advocated for our City Council to have input in shelter decisions with significant impacts to a local community. They are choosing the location of the new shelter. I am grateful our Council is doing so – their insights and perspectives as our local leaders should be valued and respected. Nevertheless, the “how” of the shelter, is at least as important as the “where” of
the shelter. These resources provide us with opportunities to improve the “how” of shelter services in our City. Here are some opportunities for consideration:

1. No Shelter Services in Residential Neighborhoods

Mustard Seed is a great organization supported by generous volunteers and employees in our community. Out of its Riverside Meadows location, Mustard Seed provides many services which bless individuals and families in our community. But homeless shelters do not work well in residential neighbourhoods.

There is an opportunity with this Provincial funding to support migrating Mustard Seed’s shelter services out of Riverside Meadows to a non-residential location, while continuing to support our Mustard Seed in maintaining its other, non-shelter services in its current location, such as providing lunches to children in schools.

2. Consolidate Homeless Meal Services into One Location

Red Deer has three organizations providing homeless meal services: Mustard Seed, Red Deer Soup Kitchen and Potters Hands. These are great volunteer service organizations. Our community has so many individuals and families with compassion to serve our neighbours. Given our smaller downtown, this Provincial funding provides an opportunity to consolidate our meal services into one location while supporting each of these organizations to continue serving our neighbours.

Consolidation will allow for better oversight of litter and social issues to neighbouring properties and businesses. Working together these organizations can have opportunities to combine their individual resources together providing even better meal services, while retaining their organizational autonomy and control to continue to uniquely serve our neighbours in love.

3. Locate All Shelter Services Proximate to Each other

Currently dry shelter services are principally provided by the Mustard Seed; wet shelter services are principally provided by Safe Harbour. Better shelter services leverage off respective competencies and strengths of different community organizations, including opportunities for many great families and individuals in our community to volunteer and serve!

Our city is small, let’s situate all dry shelter and wet shelter services proximate to each other to reduce issues for wider City families and businesses, while supporting the organizational autonomy of service providers respecting their organizational culture, their strengths, and competencies.

4. A Culture of Hope in Shelter Services

An overarching shelter culture which encourages and supports positive steps towards self-reliance for adult shelter users, including for addiction recovery as applicable, engaging civil society volunteers and our service organizations, and local businesses, will result in shelter services with a culture of hope.

5. Opportunity for our City to own our Shelter Infrastructure

It is important to recognize that the ownership of our new shelter infrastructure and the operation of shelter services in that location can be separated. While I respect that others may have different perspectives, there will be great public benefit, even protection, if the City considers owning this new shelter infrastructure. Why? Because as shelter services must be provided in a “good neighbour” manner, there needs to be an ability for the City to not only ask an operator to be better, but even seek replacement of the operator if they fail to do so.

If a shelter operator owns shelter infrastructure, while the Province can, as a last resort, end operational funding to the operator, the Province would be then compelled to not only seek an alternate operator, but also alternate infrastructure to provide shelter services. That requirement increases the cost of changing a bad operator higher, and as a result, harder. Therefore, if shelter infrastructure ownership is with the City, the ability to require accountability from shelter operators increases.

Separating ownership from shelter operations recognizes that shelter boards and management change over time. Good operators today may be less good tomorrow. If shelter ownership is separate from shelter operations, there is more protection over time against a risk of a shelter service provider beginning to act with less care for the collateral consequences of their actions to businesses and families in the community.

The Province does not own shelters, but we do not want them to do so. A future provincial government may transfer ownership to a shelter service provider, contrary to the interests of a local community. The City, which better understands our local needs and circumstances, is a better person to be entrusted with this critical public infrastructure.

D. The pieces are there; let’s put them properly together!

Doing things in the right way, may require us to do things differently, and better, from past approaches. With new strategic investments from our Provincial Government, we have a unique opportunity to make transformative course corrections which will bless businesses, families, and individuals in our community over the long term!

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Community

The Laft Hus celebrates 35 years in Red Deer

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The Laft Hus is a replica of an 18th-century farmhouse in the Numedal district in Norway. It was created through the efforts of volunteers, and it officially opened to the public in 1987.

The museum contains many old artifacts and examples of Norwegian arts and crafts and a small butikk of Norwegian items and the house itself is of note due to its traditional sod roof.

The museum and gift shop are open to visitors every day (except Mondays) from June 1 through to August 31, 9:00 am to 3 pm. For the remainder of the year, the Norwegian Laft Hus is open each Wednesday when a group of ladies meet to work on Norwegian arts and crafts.

This year, the Laft Hus celebrates its 35th year in Red Deer. The annual festival will take place on June 18, 2022 and will have many activities, entertainment, Norwegian food and vendors for the visitors to enjoy. Help us celebrate!

For more information, visit their website.

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Central Alberta

Children’s Fest is back in the park in 2022!

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Groups and organizations come together to host the 16th Annual Central Alberta Children’s Festival

Never Grow Up!

After 2 years of re-imagined festivals we are excited to be hosting the 16 th Annual Central Alberta Children’s Festival back in the park. This family-friendly event is held over two days the first weekend of June. The festival is an opportunity for children and their families to get first-hand knowledge and exposure to the arts, to allow their creativity and imaginations to blossom.

June 3rd and 4th Rotary Recreation Park 4501 47A Ave, Red Deer will come to life with music, dancing, children running and laughing enjoying tons of interactive fun!

The community planning committee has been busy putting together a great two days that will enchant and engage children of all ages. With support from various community partners, the festival brings affordable, culturally diverse, and exciting entertainment through featured artists and interactive fun. We strive to allow families to actively engage in learning and playtime by fostering their imagination and creativity. From dancing, ultimate fort building, Laser Chase, Imaginate where you will learn from local artists, glitter tattoos, and performances this children’s festival has it all.

Live shows include:

 Beppie a JUNO nominated recording artist and an award winning music educator based out of Edmonton,

 LANCE CARDINAL ᐊᐧᒐᐢᐠ First Nations artist, designer, and entrepreneur. Lance recently began a new role as Indigenous consultant and designer for the Edmonton Oilers, writing the new pre-game land acknowledgement video and designing the new Turtle Island Logo.

 The Joe Show – Start with a little magic. Add some breathtaking illusions. Stir in appearances from an amazing collection of animal friends with ventriloquism, Sprinkle in a healthy dose of jokes, laughter and fun, and you have the recipe for an amazing show known as the Joe Show

With our admission fee of only $7 per person, or $25 per family or anytime pass $40.00 for a family, every family can enjoy the world-class entertainment and all activities. Included with the admission, families will also have access to free
snacks and water (bring a bottle!), The Central Alberta Children’s Festival welcomes kids ages 0 – 99!

For more information on the festival visit www.centralalbertachildrensfestival.ca

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