Terrace, B.C. homeless shelter plan draws opposition

The shelter would provide a safe place for people who have been drinking

A building on Lazelle Ave. in downtown Terrace could become the new location for an extreme weather shelter for homeless.

The owner of a downtown business has started a petition opposing the rezoning of a property next door that the Ksan House Society wants to use for a homeless shelter.

The plan to rezone 4614 Lazelle Ave. for institutional use, which needs to be done if Ksan is to open a shelter there, was introduced at a recent council meeting. The building was once the administrative headquarters for the regional Northern Drugs chain.

Marilyn Dahl of Terrace Interiors says her customers are already alarmed by the high homeless population and others milling about in the downtown streets and that having a shelter next door would only add to the alarm.

She has drawn up a petition and placed it in various stores through the downtown area and hopes it will make the city think twice about the shelter rezoning request and shift the proposal to a location away from the downtown area.

Dahl plans to submit the petition when the city holds a public hearing into the rezoning application on April 11.

“Our customers have really objected to it because of all the people on the street. I don’t think a business area should be rezoned, you have to have a place for those people to hang outside and there is no place for them,” Dahl said, adding that she is in favour of long term solutions to help the homeless.

Dahl also owns the vacant lot immediately beside the building where the shelter would be, but says she wouldn’t allow people to congregate on her property.

The proposed homeless shelter would be the second operated by Ksan which already has a shelter at its Hall St. complex on the southside.

The society does operate what is called an extreme weather shelter under contract from the provincial BC Housing agency during the cold weather months.

It’s also called a damp shelter because it allows people in who have been drinking, something not allowed at the Hall St. location.

The extreme weather shelter had been located at the All Nations Centre on Sparks for the past several years but that location was found to be unsuitable this past winter and for its last open month of March was temporarily moved to the Hall St. complex.

Ksan executive director Amanda Bains said the second shelter’s proposed location on Lazelle Ave., which they hope to open year-round, would serve homeless people and others who are already in the downtown area.

“People are saying it will draw people downtown, but that is where they are already. They are hanging out at Brolly Square, they’re hanging out at the library and the library park, they’re hanging out down at the [former Terrace] Co-op [property],” said Bains.

“You need to have these services where the people are located. You can’t put them out at the airport like somebody suggested on Facebook. If it’s not accessible, then people are not going to go there.”

“It’s not going to draw people to the area, it’s going to allow them to have a place to go if they are too intoxicated to be on the street. It will allow them to be safe,” Bains said.

City councillor Stacey Tyers, who is also a city liaison to the city’s homelessness task group, said that finding an alternative location would be quite difficult.

She said her employer, the Terrace and District Community Services Society, has been looking for a shelter-like building for years and has had no luck.

“Are there a lot of alternatives? Probably not because there isn’t a lot of alternatives for sale.”

The executive director of the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area Society, Dennis Lissimore, said he has heard mixed responses to the rezoning proposal.

“I got 10 or 15 emails and 30 phone calls within a couple hours of it coming out in the paper,” he said, though added that “not everybody is against it and not everybody cares.”

Lissimore said the reality of people hanging out in the downtown area is part of the larger issue of how to deal with homeless people.

(With files from Jackie Lieuwen.)