Following a presentation from BC Housing officials and discussion on homelessness in the community, a public hearing has been for a property that is being pitched as a proposed homeless shelter.
Coun. Norma Blissett moved a motion at the end of Monday’s council meeting to set a date for the public hearing on Feb. 1, which will allow for public feedback on the zoning amendment for 209 16th Ave N. — the site of the proposed homeless shelter.
Coun. Blissett cited her concerns with the public hearing being delayed twice, noting that BC Housing and Community Connections Society of Southeast BC recently held public online information session on the shelter proposal last week.
“At this point in time, we need to establish when the public hearing is so that we can hear from the other people that weren’t able to attend the BC Housing open house or attended and still want to say more to us,” said Blissett.
Prior to Blissett’s motion, BC Housing officials gave a presentation to mayor and council on operational details with the proposed homeless shelter, while city staff also presented a report on homelessness in Cranbrook that included information on BC Housing shelter practices and case studies from other communities.
“I have known because of Street Angels and the work of Community Connections, ANKORS and also the Ktunaxa and their supportive housing, that we have great services, but we’re missing this shelter,” said Blissett, during the council discussions. “So I’m really excited about the next step.”
BC Housing lays out shelter proposal
Officials with BC Housing presented specific operational details about the proposed shelter at 209 16th Ave N, which will be operated by CCSSBC for an initial three-year term, with options for two one-year renewals, if the zoning amendment is approved.
The shelter will feature 40 beds in pod-like formations separated by short walls in a large open room that was formerly occupied by a fitness company.
The proposed shelter will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as a temporary housing solution for homeless individuals. Other on site services include meals, laundry and storage, as well as access to an outdoor area that will be fenced off with picnic tables or gazebos.
CCSSBC will operate the shelter and provide a series of inter-connected services that are already offered on site relating to mental health, substance use, and assistance for finding more permanent housing.
There will be an overdose prevention measures in place on the site, which include a dedicated space for individuals to use substance while being monitored by staff trained to recognize overdose reactions and can respond with nalaxone kits, as well as help properly dispose needles.
The overdose prevention measures will only be available to shelter guests.
The intent is to prevent those who use substance from going outside and away from shelter staff, where they may experience an overdose while alone or in the cold elements.
“These overdose prevention spaces is really part of that overall harm reduction philosophy really around reducing harm. So some people think in their minds, they think it’s like a gong show — every one is in there using drugs and drinking and all that. That’s not it at all,” said Nanette Drobot, Regional Director with BC Housing.
“There are a lot of shelter users who are not drug users, who do not consume alcohol.”
Giving those who use substance a place to stay helps build relationships with staff or social service providers that can help steer individuals towards treatment and recovery programs, added Drobot.
The overdose prevention measures fielded a number of queries from a few different councillors.
Mayor Lee Pratt raised the community debates around cannabis retailers, noting that there had to be a buffer zone between stores and places like schools, playgrounds or daycares, and also raised concerns that individuals who use substance may make up a disproportionate percentage of the shelter population.
“I’m not being disrespectful here, but a lot of those people need mental counselling rather than a bed, and I don’t see where we’re really addressing that,” said Pratt. “I think this is a bigger issue than just a homeless shelter. I think we need a permanent facility with counselling and rooms where these people can take pride in what they have and get back into the counselling and building their self esteem and self worth and get back into the community.
“I’m not against the shelter, we’re just talking about the zoning.”
Homeless services in Cranbrook
According to a point-in-time count last year, there are 63 individuals in Cranbrook, a dramatic increase from 29 that were identified in 2018.
Of the 63, 42 per cent have lived in Cranbrook for 10 years, and 67 per cent have been experiencing homelessness for over one year.
Right now, there are no shelter services available in Cranbrook, however, there are a number of COVID response spaces available through the Travelodge, according to Drobot.
BC Housing has secured 25 spaces for individuals at risk, 10 on-call emergency beds and 15 additional rooms available for cold weather shelter through til March 2021. Traditionally, the Salvation Army had offered 12-hour shelter space in the winter season, but the organization was not able to fulfill COVID-19 requirements this year.
If the zoning amendment for the 209 16th Ave N property passes, the proposed shelter could be open by the spring, once some renovations have been completed.
Given the social services offered at CCSSBC, ANKORS, walk-in counselling, and the proximity of Operation Street Angel, Drobot added the proposed site is an ideal fit.
“This location has a tremendous amount of advantages simply because of how it’s co-located with other homeless serving organization that should really add value and a tremendous amount of service to this particular population,” said Drobot.
“…When we have had locations sort of farther out, it’s been a struggle for our homeless population to connect in sometimes with the services they require, so I think this location is a good one.”
In this case, the building owner and CCSSBC approached BC Housing about the opportunity for a potential shelter, while sometimes municipalities identify properties first before approaching seeking potential operators and approaching the crown corporation, according to Drobot.
“I think, for us, we’ve tried to make sure that what we’re trying to do is transparent and council and the mayor has enough information to base their decision on,” Drobot said. “We know that it can be a very divisive topic in a community, especially when you don’t have a shelter and people are very worried and concerned about potential neighbourhood impacts.
“We are very alive to that and so that’s why when situations come like this where we’re sitting here talking about a rezoning, we would really want to make sure that you understood from our perspective, having proper community integration is one of the key objectives for us and an objective we stress with our operator.”
The city also presented a report that focused on a general overview of homelessness in Cranbrook, as well as identifying nearby services offered through CCSSBC, Operation Street Angel nearby on 17th Ave, and East Kootenay Addictions Services Society offices on Baker Street.
There have been limited complaints with registered residents at the Travelodge, however, the report also notes that bylaw services have had interactions with two to four residents who do not abide by the BC Housing shelter rules.
The city report noted that numerous camps were set up in the summer on the former Tembec industrial lands, behind the old Players Bench store, and near Home Hardware’s access road.
While examining the shelter proposal at 2019 16th Ave N, the city report also identified three additional locations that might serve as a shelter:
• 520 Slater Road- the old Aaron’s computer/appliance store- 11,700 sq ft- across from the Salvation Army
• 527 Industrial D Road- 10,390 sq ft
• 2108 Cranbrook St. N ( old Harley Davidson building.)- 9970 sq. ft
However, those locations haven’t been vetted through the city’s planning department.
The city’s homeless report touched off a brief debate about investigating various shelter location options when the current proposal on the table at city hall is a zoning amendment.
“If BC Housing at the very beginning would have went out for an RFP (Request for Proposal) for interest, they maybe would have found out other locations that were available in Cranbrook,” said Pratt. “Instead, they’ve operated on somebody coming to them with an idea and went down that path.”
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