Continued advocacy work for people who are homeless in St. Albert is something Mayor Cathy Heron most looks forward to this year.
The Gazette sat down with Heron to get a sense of some of her priorities and goals for 2020, which ranged from drafting a cat bylaw to maintaining council relationships and seeing land locked down for a new recreation facility.
But what she is most looking forward to is seeing recommendations to “build something” that will help address needs of people experiencing homelessness.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness was formed in 2018 and Heron said she expects it will hand down its highly anticipated final report this summer.
The report will be recommending St. Albert build something, which Heron said will likely be along the lines of transitional housing and not a homeless shelter.
“My theory on the issue in St. Albert is we need to take care of our own,” Heron said. She added the face of homelessness is not necessarily restricted to those who are rough sleeping, but in fact it is more “atypical.”
Heron said the task force’s final report will show many of the people experiencing homelessness in St. Albert are LGBTQ+ youth who have been kicked out of their homes and are instead couch surfing.
The start of a new year also marks the second half of city council’s term, and Heron said that means council might need to accelerate some of their goals.
Heron said council drew up a “very good” strategic plan featuring six priorities at the term’s start, but they might need to “push it a little harder” this year.
“Maybe that will require us prioritizing some of the plan over other pieces of the plan,” she said.
Economic development was a key area where Heron said more attention can always be paid.
“It always is (important), but I feel like maybe it's time to elevate it a bit,” she said.
In addition, while there are lots of “irons in the fire” on enhancing housing options in St. Albert, she said that is a priority council needs to work on. She said that priority will be intrinsically linked with the recommendations coming out of the homelessness task force report.
Strides have been made in developing St. Albert’s transportation network in recent years, but Heron said residents may be in for a couple of frustrating years of construction, as the fruits of the city’s labour are realized.
“Which is frustrating, but this is our response to the traffic issues is to widen roads and get the automatic lights going,” she said.
Turning to transit, Heron said the opening of St. Albert’s new Campbell Road Park and Ride has been a long time coming and will have implications on changing transit needs.
St. Albert will require a new transfer station for local routes, Heron said, since it does not make sense for local routes to go into Edmonton to the park and ride for transfers.
“We're gonna have to redo the routing, but that'll be good. I think it'll be positive because that will improve our local service,” she said.
A contentious issue Heron said council will be taking a stab at this year is drafting a cat bylaw. St. Albert currently does not have a bylaw, meaning there is no true method for residents to either complain about nuisance animals or find information about missing pets.
While Heron said she does not foresee the city building its own animal shelter, she said there are opportunities to partner with local animal veterinaries who could take in stray animals.
Maintain good relationships
Another priority for Heron in 2020 is maintaining good working relationships among council members.
“We need to prevent any fractures in our governing body and you can see it sometimes that it's starting to happen and I feel like as the leader of this council, I need to make sure that everybody feels that they're being heard,” she said.
Heron said something she worries about in 2020 is the UCP government’s first full budget, which will be released in spring 2020.
In the fall, the newly elected government rolled out an interim budget that saw municipalities hit by budget cuts. Heron said she hopes municipalities are not hit against in the spring budget.
So far, Heron said she has appreciated that the UCP has honoured the previous NDP’s funding commitment to widening Ray Gibbon Drive. But she said she would like to see them focus more on affordable housing and continue consultations.
“I love how fast they move, as long as they bring us along with them,” she said. “If they move too fast and too far ahead of us and don't consult us then I get a little frustrated.”