February 28th, 2024

Council discusses purchase for shelter but item doesn’t make open agenda

By COLLIN GALLANT on September 7, 2022.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

City Hall is looking into buying the former Champions Centre location, potentially providing a route for plans to build an overnight homeless shelter that were stalled this summer.

Neighbouring businesses on N. Railway Street objected to the shelter and municipal planning commission members voted to table the proposal by the Mustard Seed, asking for more discussion between the two sides.

Shelter operators eventually withdrew the application, but indicated that if city staffers or commissions wanted to only temporarily approve a shelter while planners study compatibility, the city should provide a building.

A potential offer for the city to acquire the building on N. Railway Street was discussed in closed session prior to Tuesday’s regular council meeting. The details and discussion are protected under freedom of information rules, according to the city clerk’s office, though no formal action flowed on to council’s “open” agenda, where council must transact official business.

Council members also do not discuss “in-camera” items.

Last week, administrators told the public services committee a potential shutdown of shelter services this winter – as the current building is now listed for sale by the owner – was a high-priority issue.

The minutes from the public services committee read:

“Management is working with stakeholders: the (landlord) Salvation Army, the Mustard Seed (operator) and the Government of Alberta (which funds the service) in an effort to find viable options for continued availability of emergency shelter services.”

It arrives months after a plan to convert the storefront was debated and officials of the Mustard Seed stated a shorter than two-year development permit would be problematic considering the investment involved.

Mustard Seed executive director Colette Eirich made the statement at the end of the June 22 municipal planning meeting commission meeting, stating her group would have to re-evaluate its investment to buy and renovate the space.

The Mustard Seed declined comment on the current shelter situation when asked by the News.

The proposal was before the municipal planning commission in July, where neighbours generally opposed the plan stating the potential for loitering, litter, or disruption would hamper the redevelopment of the business strip.

MPC members tabled the request for a temporary two-year development – the length specifically set by the planning department, which is eying a broader overview of how to best locate intensive service delivery agencies.

Last spring the Mustard Seed took over providing overnight shelter services from the Salvation Army and leased the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope location in the South Flats.

That building however, is now listed for sale as planned, and may not be available this winter. That led the Mustard Seed to apply in June to renovate the former Champions Centre to house 25 overnight patrons, submitting staffing levels and a mitigation plan for potential impact on neighbouring businesses.

That was similar to a deal struck in 2021, when the site became an emergency daytime shelter operated by McMan Family and Community Services. At that point the planning department was tasked with studying the issue to determine whether storefronts were suitable locations for social services.

Adjacent business and property owners had objected, claiming a homeless shelter on the block would detract from rejuvenation efforts.

This summer MPC members tabled the issue, asking the Mustard Seed to enter into discussions with business owners in the community.

The Mustard Seed withdrew the application.

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