February 21st, 2024

N. Railway shelter plan axed

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 6, 2022.

A plan to open an overnight homeless shelter in the old Champion Centre space on N. Railway Street has been pulled off the table by would be operator, the Mustard Seed.--NEWS FILE PHOTO


A plan to convert a N. Railway storefront into an overnight homeless shelter has been rescinded, a move that could lead to no shelter services in the city next winter, city councillors heard Monday.

The meeting heard that a proposal before the municipal planning commission had been pulled back by the applicant, the Mustard Seed. It hoped to convert 451 N. Railway Street – the former Champions Centre location – to an overnight facility when the lease on the current building goes up for sale in the fall.

Now, said administrators, there is a move for the province to re-tender the contract to provide the service, but the immediate future is unclear.

“We’re aware this may leave the community without an overnight shelter facility come this fall,” said city community development director Leah Prestayko, speaking as the acting public services managing director on Monday.

“We’ve been advised the province intends to issue an RFP (request for proposals) for shelter services and operations this fall and that could result in a change of provider next April.

“We’ve been in communications and consultations with a number of the parties involved, including the Mustard Seed and Medicine Hat Community Housing, and have that channel of communication with the government itself.”

Councillors voted to direct administration to study the potential for a 24-hour shelter, which was the direction given last summer when the same location was a point of controversy toward permitting a daytime only shelter.

The News was told officials with the Mustard Seed are out of the office until later this month, but would comment upon their return.

Prestayko said Medicine Hat is the largest centre in Alberta without a 24-hour, seven day per week shelter in the community funded by the province, but the government has no desire to own property or operate the service itself.

“The city is neither the operator or the funder, but we appreciate that council may have some desire to support or enable community service providers to provide shelter services,” said Prestayko.

“This may involved being a facilitator toward solutions and consultation, and the city may or may not be involved in the longer term.”

Two weeks ago the municipal planning commission heard the Mustard Seed took over overnight shelter operation from the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope in April, but continued to operate in the same location.

They were informed the building would be marketed for sale in September. To accommodate a new location, the Mustard Seed applied for a development permit to alter the upstairs of the N. Railway building to set up space and washrooms for about 25 shelter users expected in cold winter months. About 14 users were typical, and they wold be allowed at the shelter from about 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., then move to the Mustard Seed’s community service hub on Allowance Avenue during the day. Commission members questioned the security plan, and business owners on the commercial strip voiced objection stating concern about loitering and litter.

The application was tabled until the June 13 meeting of the municipal planning commission after it directed the Mustard Seed to open dialogue with neighbouring businesses.

Last year the location of a daytime shelter was bandied about after an emergency pandemic-related space was set up on Third Street downtown until business owners there appealed.

It was temporarily set up in the Medicine Hat Curling Club, then moved to N. Railway after the operator, McMan Youth and Family Services, presented an operating plan for the shelter which only had a few months of funding remaining.

Eventually it was closed ahead of schedule based on decreasing need.

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