A public hearing into a proposed extreme weather shelter was so well attended last night that Terrace city council decided to recess the hearing and reschedule for later this month.
At least 50 members of the public came out, many wanting to speak in favour or against the Ksan House Society application to rezone an unused building at 4614 Lazelle Ave. between Canada Post and Terrace Interiors to a public usage that will allow it to open a 20-bed extreme weather shelter and drop in centre.
Speaking to council was Kelly Sims, a consultant hired by Ksan to speak on the non-profit’s behalf. She was introduced by Ksan executive director Amanda Bains.
Sims’ presentation anticipated the problems that people might have with a damp shelter (a shelter that allows in people who have been drinking) in the downtown core, and then presented solutions.
A shelter would “decrease emergency phone calls, emergency room visits and hospitalization. It will decrease street homelessness during extreme weather conditions, it will reduce police calls for nuisance and or loitering. It will also mitigate adverse health outcomes,” said Sims.
She painted a picture of a shelter that would be well-staffed and provide an important stepping stone for homeless people to get off the streets.
By giving the homeless shelter, they can can get a step up in the pursuit of more permanent accommodation, Sims added.
With a 16 per cent increase in the homeless population counted in the past two years and the prospect of over 130 by 2020 if the trend continues, Sims said the need for a shelter is pressing.
Downtown locations work well, she added, showing examples of several successful shelters in other cities.
Contrary to what people think about safety, homeless people are in fact more vulnerable to violence themselves, said Sims.
The shelter would also provide a place for people to shower and the groundwork to providing proper sleeping and eating facilities lacking at the All Nations Centre on Davis and Sparks where Ksan has rented space the past two winters.
The only person other than city staff to have a chance to speak at the hearing last night was a former homeless man whom Sims introduced.
He spoke of the benefits of a damp shelter in helping him on the right track toward stable accommodation.
A city staff report approved of a shelter location downtown as well.
City planner Tara Irwin related how 242 comments came in by email in favour of the rezoning, while under ten emails were received against.
“We also recognize the proposed location would need to be carefully and properly managed,” said Irwin.
However, a petition has been circulating in the community against the rezoning and this has not been submitted to the city yet.
Nor has a recommendation from the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area society whose membership does not approve of the location because they think it would perpetuate a problem, and that a better location away from the downtown could be sought.
According to Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce president Val Gauvin who was at the meeting, the chamber does not approve of rezoning downtown buildings for public use.
“If business is to invest in commercial real estate, we have to be able to depend on city council to not change zoning,” she said afterwards.
Sims suggested a collaboration between business and Ksan: “a charter between the business sector and the Ksan management on how issues and communication can be resolved if any incidents occur.”
She said that by working together, different groups can pull together and solve the homelessness problem.
The public hearing will continue at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 25 in the banquet room of the Terrace Sportsplex.
There will be a sign-up list for those wishing to speak. Written submissions are also being taken until late in the day of the hearing date.
The rezoning application was given first and second reading on March 14.
Third reading and the vote for adoption will take place after the April 25 hearing continuation has taken place.