Community Stories

Beautifying The Buffalo

When driving south on 51 Avenue, many people recognize The Buffalo, one of Red Deer’s historic buildings.

From the front, not a lot has changed over the years, however, walk around back and you’ll see a transformation that is giving new life to the old hotel, which is now home to 39 people. The Buffalo provides a permanent home for individuals who are experiencing complex mental health, addiction, and physical health barriers.

Using the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) approach, the Downtown Community Development Committee (DCDC) made it their priority to build a fence along the south side of the building to not only provide a safer and more private space for tenants to enjoy, but also to help improve public perception about The Buffalo. Along with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, John Howard Society, The City of Red Deer, Crozier Developments and artist Stephen Birch, the DCDC’s vision has become a reality.

The fence features several unique qualities, you’ll notice sections that are painted and others with plexi-glass that was upcycled from the former Red Deer Arena. Within the fenced area, several seating areas are placed throughout as well as flower pots and raised garden beds. The flowers were planted by a Buffalo staff member and are maintained by tenants.

Upon completion of the backyard, tenants and staff were asked several questions about their thoughts on the transformation. When asked what they thought of the area last year, the answers included: “dirty, unsafe”, “it was very open and allowed for anyone to sit around” and “it needed some love”. When asked what their impression of The Buffalo’s backyard is this summer, the answers were a lot more positive: “The Buffalo feels like a property now”,  “it’s more of a home to the tenants, they deserve a backyard” and “it’s a pretty setting, flowers help a lot. The Buffalo feels like a property now”.

Since the fence was built, Buffalo staff have seen an approximate 80 per cent decrease in unwanted activity in the back area. There has also been approximately 50 per cent less calls for service to the RCMP since the project’s completion.

“The fence and the murals have greatly improved the Buffalo,” said Donna Boyko, Team Leader at The Buffalo. “Tenants seem to take pride in their outside area. It seems to give them purpose as well as a place to visit with friends.”

The total investment for The Buffalo Backyard Fence Project was $16,000. The group started with $8000 of initial seed money that was leveraged for an additional $8000 to complete.

The partners in The Buffalo include Potter’s Hands Development Ltd., which owns the building, the Canadian Mental Health Association-Central Alberta Region which provides 24 hour staffing and supports, and The City of Red Deer who provides funding that is received through Outreach Support Services Initiative (OSSI) from the Government of Alberta. They take a “Housing First” approach to help break the cycle of homelessness and provide 24-hour support to individuals who had previously experienced chronic homelessness.