Council votes against new homeless shelter rezone

Ksan House Society wanted to buy a building in downtown Terrace, B.C. to use as a year-round extreme weather shelter

Kerry Giesbrecht speaks at yesterday evening's public hearing for the rezoning of a downtown building wanted for an extreme weather shelter.

The search for an alternative location for an extreme weather shelter continues as Terrace city council voted last night against a rezoning application by a local non-profit housing provider needed to purchase a building for that purpose.

The tension was palpable as the final vote was cast following a public hearing held at the Sportsplex banquet hall where just over 100 residents showed up and 21 presented their opinions to council.

At the final call to question, the four votes by councillors Sean Bujtas, Lynne Christiansen, Brian Downie and mayor Carol Leclerc defeated the motion to accept the staff recommendation to allow the rezone of a building at 4614 Lazelle Ave. beside Interior Paints, that has been empty for several years, from commercial to public use.

The building once served as the office for Northern Drugs and would have been renovated into a new extreme weather shelter where homeless who are intoxicated can stay, as well as a 24 hour drop-in centre with washroom facilities.

Presenters included a number of business owners against the rezone because they said their businesses and safety suffers from the drunkenness downtown, and they feared that problem would only continue if a year-round damp shelter was allowed to open in the same area.

Many who spoke in favour were representatives from local social services non-profits as well as residents with a background in social services who spoke of the need to protect the vulnerable population in the short term while longer term solutions are sought.

Recognition of the need for long term solutions was the common ground between the opposing sides, mayor Carol Leclerc pointed out.

The RCMP, represented by staff sergeant Syd Lecky, supported the idea of an extreme weather shelter because of the burden that the homeless population places on his detachment and the inappropriateness of jail cells for housing the intoxicated.

Voting in favour of the rezone were Michael Prevost, Stacey Tyers, and James Cordeiro.

Cordeiro had said in his comments that he would have voted to table the rezone decision if he saw a “genuine commitment” by council to commit itself to a different solution to homelessness that didn’t involve a shelter at the contested location. However, since the public hearing was closed already, staff said that changing the resolution wouldn’t be possible.

I am not sure council has an appetite to take on that level of responsibility,” said Cordeiro.

Councillor Lynne Christiansen said that she’s seen the city “grow deeper and deeper” into its homelessness issues over the years.

I hate to see the community so polarized and things so enflamed,” she said. “We need to get to the root problem.”

But she also said she had to listen to the many business owners, and how this particular extreme shelter would impact them negatively.

Tyers spoke of how hard it is to find the right location. According to the presentation by Ksan Director Amanda Bains, the Lazelle location had everything that Ksan needed to expand its service to the homeless.

I think it’s interesting that the business community has suddenly become the experts on how to deal with homelessness,” Tyers said after it became clear that the majority of council was opposed to the shelter.

Clever minds have to put their heads to it,” said councillor Brian Downie, before casting his no vote.

He called the damp shelter program “credible and needed.” But extending the extreme weather shelter to 12 months a year was “a huge change” that needed to be given more consideration.

He said he wanted to “get to the bottom of the homelessness issue”.

The homelessness task group will come up with “strategies to get us to the next step” he said.

I don’t like seeing us getting out backs put against the wall,” he added about the perceived ultimatum between this new extreme weather shelter or no extreme weather shelter at all, which he thought was misleading because there have been extreme weather shelters at various locations over the years.

On the other hand, councillor Michael Prevost said that “people need to see viable, tangible solutions.”

If people’s basic needs aren’t met, they can’t move forward,” he said, adding that the expanded features of the new proposed shelter would help transition towards longer term results.

A petition of 613 opposing the rezone was presented at the beginning of the meeting. Form letters were also presented to the city—423 letters were in favour of the downtown homeless shelter, 258 were opposed.

Currently the city has the regular Ksan shelter on Hall St. which can sleep about 24 and is typically filled and doesn’t allow people in who are intoxicated.

From October through March, the All Nations Centre on Sparks St. has been used as an extreme weather shelter over the last few years, but Ksan said they need a new location because it does not have the necessary facilities and is crowded with other programs.

Editor’s note: The original cutline for the photograph has been changed. Kerry Giesbrecht was not speaking in connection with her involvement in the Greater Terrace Beautification Society. And an original statement attributed to RCMP Staff Sergeant Syd Lecky has since been corrected. While he is in favour of an extreme weather shelter and spoke of its need, he was not commenting on the rezoning nor on Ksan’s proposed location.