City of Powell River council will consider issuing a temporary use permit (TUP) for a 20-bed extreme weather shelter and respite area on Joyce Avenue.
At the November 16 committee of the whole meeting, city senior planner Daniella Fergusson outlined a proposal to establish the facility at 4746 Joyce Avenue, adjacent to the Community Resource Centre. Lift Community Services has filed the application.
Fergusson said what this TUP would allow is moving people, who are currently residing at Westview Centre Motel, to go to this extreme weather shelter for this winter. She said a lease has been secured until the end of April 2022. Staff is recommending a three-year permit, even though the lease is secured until next April, said Fergusson.
The property in question is located on a C1 (general commercial) property, said Fergusson. She said it is close to the mall, community services and clinics, it’s on a bus route and a good location for people who might not have access to vehicles to get around town.
There is proximity to the Community Resource Centre, which has a kitchen and access to the overdose prevention site, added Fergusson.
“In considering conflicts where winter shelters have been located before, staff have provided some items in the draft TUP with the hopes to avoid them,” said Fergusson. “As council is aware, there have been challenges finding a winter shelter every year. This is still a stop-gap measure. It’s not a permanent location, but would provide certainty for the next few years, pending lease agreements about where this winter shelter could be located.”
Mayor Dave Formosa asked when people would be leaving the Westview Centre Motel and then be requiring access to this facility.
Lift community development manager Kathryn Colby said she works in sheltering people, as well as stemming the opioid crisis locally, and that the shelter is not specifically for people at the motel.
“We are working quite hard with the folks who are sheltered there to find other housing,” said Colby. “It’s more a proliferation of their guests and others that we’ve realized are unhoused, which is bringing us to this idea of a 20-bed emergency shelter that can be utilized all night. We think many of the issues that have come up at the Westview Centre Motel will be taken care of if there is space for folks at night, with supports and supervision.”
Colby said the hope is to have the motel cleared out by mid-December.
Formosa said work continues to secure more assisted living in the city for people who need housing. He said the city needed two such facilities and only got one. He then asked Colby to describe the winter shelters.
She said the shelter goes until March 31 and provides space on a first-come, first-served basis, plus the possibility for people to drop in and get warm.
Facility needs to happen, says councillor
Councillor Rob Southcott said there is a distinct need and it’s been known that Powell River has housing problems for five years or so, as homelessness has become more prevalent. He said the proposed facility needs to happen, and has, in past years, been housed by the Salvation Army, and at the former Lutheran church on Alberni Street.
“It’s something I want to see work,” said Southcott. “When people are looked after, then the impacts to the community don’t happen.”
Councillor Jim Palm said he had reservations about placing another accommodation in the middle of the business district.
“We know the impacts on Marine Avenue and they are not pretty; people are not happy, business owners paying large taxes are not happy,” said Palm. “I don’t hear any assurances that we are not going to be faced with the same problems we are dealing with now on Marine. I did not hear a guarantee that the current occupants of the motel will be moved. I heard reference to create an additional spot for severe weather and that the motel may or may not continue to be in operation.”
Colby said she had stated that December 15 is the target for vacating the motel.
She said she wanted to provide a reminder that Lift has successfully run a winter shelter in 2018 and 2019 without incidents.
“We’ve had endless success with this model,” said Colby. “Folks get what they need and we now have additional supports during the day to assist them, so I’m hoping that many of the nuisance activities we’ve seen with the proliferation of homelessness will be addressed with more supports and a place for people to be at night.”
Palm relays public frustration
Palm said there is widespread theft in Powell River and he’s hearing this on multiple fronts.
“I know there are growing pains, but to sit here in this chamber, and have my phone ringing from residents crying on the other end because of the constant threat and theft that is going on, it’s not easy in this job,” said Palm. “Things have gotten to the state where they are out of control. This used to be a beautiful little town. Now, things have proliferated to where people can’t look after each other, or, they are threatening vigilante action.
“That is not healthy for our community. I have to express the frustration so the public is very aware that we are very aware.”
Colby said a large portion of her portfolio is the opioid crisis.
“We’ve been a community of interest since 2015,” said Colby. “Drug supply is more toxic than ever. To say we are different from other communities is a misnomer.
“As community action coordinator, I work with more than 30 people around the province who are in the same position that I am, in similar-sized communities. They are experiencing the same issues, where folks feel unsafe and violated because they have been victims of petty theft and other things.”
Colby said she works with a number of partners in the community to make sure the most vulnerable are receiving care.
“What we’re seeing with this proliferation of theft is a result of poverty and more unaffordable housing where people are feeling more desperate,” she added.
City councillor Cindy Elliott said she wanted people of the community to know that Lift performs incredibly well in a time when there has never been as much need.
The committee voted to direct staff to give notice of council’s intention to consider issuance of the TUP.