The city council of Leduc, Alta., votes to establish an emergency shelter for the homeless during cold weather

The city council of Leduc, Alta., votes to establish an emergency shelter for the homeless during cold weather
The city council of Leduc, Alta., votes to establish an emergency shelter for the homeless during cold weather

After a contentious debate, the Leduc, Alta., City Council this week passed a motion supporting the creation of an emergency overnight shelter for use during periods of extreme cold weather.

An estimated 100 people are currently homeless in Leduc. The city’s only homeless shelter, 35 kilometers south of Edmonton, closed in May.

Count. Ryan Pollard introduced a motion at a council meeting Monday calling on the city council to initiate planning and facility requirements to provide overnight emergency shelter services that would operate during severe weather between Nov. 1, 2024 and April 30, 2025.

The services include modular accommodation units behind the Protective Services building, which houses the Leduc RCMP detachment and a fire hall.

Pollard’s motion passed by a 4-3 vote.

The administration will now seek a contracted service provider to run the program at a cost of up to $308,000. The money is to come from the city’s operating reserve fund.

Mayor Bob Young, who voted against the motion, said instead of opening a new emergency shelter, Leduc should direct people experiencing homelessness to the province’s new navigation center in Edmonton.

“I’m not voting against this because I want to see someone freezing in the street,” Young told the council. “I want people to get the help and support they need.”

But he said few municipalities are opening shelters because of the costs involved.

“A homeless shelter just keeps people homeless, it doesn’t help them,” he said.

Count. Glen Finstad also voted against Pollard’s motion after saying he hoped common sense would prevail.

“We have to stay on our own path. The province has the resources to handle this,” Finstad said.

According to him, setting up a new shelter might give people a sense of doing something good, but it would not “solve” the “problem” of homelessness.

“We are not experts in this. We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the manpower.”

The shelter was closed in May

Shannon Dalke, president of the Leduc Hub Association board of directors, said some of the arguments she heard against Pollard’s proposal to create an emergency shelter were troubling.

The Hub operated the city’s only homeless shelter, but closed it on May 1 after it was unable to find a suitable new location that met city zoning rules.

Because the association has no location rental, it cannot obtain a municipal operating permit. That prohibits the Hub from accessing operating funding grants offered by the Alberta government.

Many homeless people in the community have told Dalke they feel lost since the shelter closed, she said.

“I fear that we have failed them as a group or as a community. I hope to let them, and our community, know that the Hub is still working hard on a bigger plan and that we want to help them in any way we can.”

According to data from the Hub, there are currently approximately 100 people experiencing homelessness in Leduc, with the number of homeless people expected to increase by 60 percent between 2022 and 2023.

In 2023, these were the services the Leduc Hub Association said it provided to community members or the situations in which people sought help. (Shannon Dalke/Leduc Hub Association)

Pollard said data shows the number of encampments in the city has increased.

“When people don’t have a place to live, or a place to sleep, they do the best they can with the resources they have, whether it’s a campfire, a stove or a tent,” he said.

He said he filed the motion in hopes of providing timely assistance to the most vulnerable.

“We can’t just wash our hands and say, ‘Well, that’s too bad for them. Sorry. You have to die because you’re mentally ill or have an addiction… you’re the author of your own demise,'” Pollard said.

That approach would be “unreasonable,” he said. The shelter proposal is the most workable option, he said.

Navigation center ‘intended to serve Edmonton’

At Edmonton’s Navigation Centre, people are offered housing, financial support, health care, addiction treatment and mental health services. There is storage for belongings and residents can keep their pets with them.

The $13 million shelter, originally intended to be temporary, opened as Edmonton police conducted a massive winter clearing of homeless encampments earlier this year.

The shelter has since become permanent. Jason Nixon, Alberta’s minister of seniors, community and social services, told media in March that more than 700 people had visited the centre since mid-January.

CBC has asked the Ministry of Seniors, Community Affairs and Social Services for comment.

Nixon spokesman Alexandru Cioban said everyone, regardless of where he or she comes from, has access to the navigation center in Edmonton.

“However, the navigation center is intended to serve Edmonton and normally operates at full capacity, with 45 to 50 people serving daily,” Cioban said in a statement.

“We do not encourage organizations outside of Edmonton to bring clients into the centre as this would present additional challenges, such as getting them back to Leduc or their own communities.”

Cioban said the province is considering “developing a national approach.”