Council approves homeless shelter rezoning
Prior to the Feb. 1 five to two vote in favour, a special council meeting was held to conduct a public hearing Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 4026, 2020.
The hour-long online and telephone public hearing featured a host of speakers expressing support and opposition to the application from Terry Segarty of 2 Baker Developments to amend the city’s Zoning Bylaw. The applicant requested adding “Supportive Housing” and “Supportive Services” & “Public and Social Services” as permitted and accessory use, respectively, to the Special Institutional Zone: P-4 zone and change the zoning designations of the subject properties with the purpose of establishing a homeless shelter with 39 beds for men and 10 beds for women with support services.
The majority of speakers expressed support for the shelter, including former city and regional politicians.
Former mayor and Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski called in to voice support for the shelter, noting the location and adjacent support services “will mean a better future for homeless people in Cranbrook.”
Former Kootenay East MLA (1996-2001) Erda Walsh agreed, noting establishing such zoning is incumbent on municipalities to establish inclusive, accessible areas for such required services.
“You do have full impact on where this development can take place” and if the rezoning doesn’t occur, “then what we will in fact be doing is saying that these people don’t have a place to call home.”
The mayor repeatedly noted the hearing was about the location and rezoning and not about the need for such a shelter.
Gary Dalton, of ANKORS, said the location is why he supports the rezoning. “This location is the envy of many in B.C.,” he said.
Another former mayor declared support of the rezoning.
“I definitely believe it’s time to pass this bylaw and move on,” said Ross Priest. “Without a doubt there are many homeless people in our city. The shelter will accommodate some – not all but a good number of some of the homeless people we have.”
The location is “appropriate and well-suited,” he added.
Opposition included concerns about the location being close to schools and sports facilities and that the process should be slowed down in order to best understand all potential impacts.
Council deliberated following the hour-long hearing and passing the third and final reading.
Coun. John Hudak said he believes council “has had broad engagement with the community and BC Housing.”
He also noted the facility will not have a safe injection site, hoping to alleviate some concerns in the community.
“Many of the homeless are not on the needle, to use street terminology. And to cast them as such is in fact irresponsible and uninformed.”
He added the support services already located beside the proposed shelter make it the ideal location in the city.
Coun Wayne Price said he disagrees with some public comments that the city and council have not looked deeply enough into the issue. Noting B.C.’s Attorney General (David Eby) has “urged us to go forward” with the shelter “alleviated his fears” that the city could face liability if something should occur on or near the site.
“When dealing with the facts, I’m in support of the proposed amendment,” he concluded.
Mayor Lee Pratt said the letter from the Attorney General “was totally an abuse of his position. He’s a minister in a provincial government and he’s using his position of influence to influence a decision on this council, while we’re sitting around here trying to make a decision for the municipality and the citizens of our city.”
He added he will be contacting the Attorney General, but not as mayor or a representative of the city, to discuss that “abuse of power with him and Premier Horgan and the Minister of Municipal Affairs because that was totally uncalled for. He referenced a case in Victoria about encampments that has absolutely no bearing on the situation in Cranbrook.”
Coun. Price replied he “didn’t look at it that way. He’s the minister responsible for housing. This is a housing development. I think it falls under his umbrella. That’s just flowing down through his ministry. I took it in good faith, actually.”
Coun. Ron Popoff said he believes delays by council in this process has allowed councillors to “truly have the time to ponder and engage” and allowed him to do more research.
“I think we are coming from a good decision basis to make this decision,” he said.
“The bottom line is I just think this is the right thing to do,” Popoff concluded.
Coun. Mike Peabody agreed with Popoff.
“This will benefit the neighbourhood,” he said. “
“This is going to take people away from sleeping on the stairs in the hockey rink and give them a bed that’s indoors and warm. It’s going to take needles away from the surrounding area because they have staff that go around and clean up the area.”
Peabody told fellow councillors, “We are in a position of privilege of deciding that people less fortunate than us can live beside a hockey arena or if they can live beside a high school. We need to recognize that. These are not all bad people. There are some people with issues but guess what, there is services right there to help them with those issues. So for me, I cannot think of a better location.”
Coun. Norma Blissett admitted she initially had concerns about council delaying a decision but in hindsight appreciates the added information obtained from constituents.
She said she feels satisfied that BC Housing will be able to work the service providers to assist the homeless “to the best of their ability” and will work well with all neighbours in case an issue should arise.
“I think this is going to be a very good thing for Cranbrook; a very good thing for all the members of our community.”
Coun. Wes Graham told fellow councillors, “For myself, it’s been a learning experience.”
However, the location remains a concern for him and as such he is opposed to the rezoning.
“I feel the safety and security concerns have not been addressed for both the users and the community at large as there is this supervised consumption site in the facility, also called harm reduction, and I don’t feel there has been a thorough review of the pros and cons, with the amount of youth activity around the site and it raises questions that have not been answered. There is definitely some neighbourhood concern.”
“The message is loud and clear – we need a homeless shelter,” said Mayor Pratt. “The burning question is where? So let’s look at the facts. Services are being provided there now. That’s what we heard all night tonight. Let me assure you, those services will be available. No matter where the shelter is located, the support will be continued. Convenience. Well, in Cranbrook if you need it, you can go to Western Financial Place and you can get a free pass for our transit. And it will take you anywhere you want free of charge. It would be nice to have it right next door but it’s not a major issue.
“We’re already experiencing problems in this area,” the mayor continued. “We’ve received letters from neighbours that have had needles in their yard, they’ve experienced theft, vandalism; in some areas numerous complaints. Do we want to add to that?”
“There is no urgency for this. March 31 is in place with an extension possible with the Travel Lodge. The Travel Lodge gives these people a room, a bed, a TV, a bathroom, four walls for security and privacy and a door that locks. The temporary shelter will provide a cot, a nightstand surrounded on three sides by a four-foot pony wall, no privacy, no personal bathroom or TV and very little security.”
Pratt said the city is hearing from businesses around the Travel Lodge having “difficulties and some have had to hire additional staff at an added expense to deal with these issues.”
And research shows there are issues in every area that houses a shelter, he continued.
“With this shelter, it’s going to attract more homeless people because that is the orbit of their social being. Just because we’re putting some of them inside a shelter is not going to alleviate the problem, it’s going to add to it.
“My concern is safety,” he said, noting local sports organizations using nearby facilities have shared stories about incidents.
As for the harm reduction component of the proposed shelter, he said, “Drugs are illegal. If a member of the public is caught with illegal drugs, they are arrested and face criminal charges. Okay with homeless addicts bringing illegal drugs obtained from illegal drug dealers and consuming them on the site. Breaking the law is breaking the law. I cannot, in good conscience, support this.”
The mayor said BC Housing “downloaded this onto the city. I’m not comfortable that they had a proper review. They got an application from a landowner in Cranbrook who saw an opportunity and a need and he approached them to sign up a deal with them. Without discussion, including us, they went ahead and accepted a proposal from one person. Governments should go out publicly for request for proposal. I know others who would bid on such a proposal and may have been a better alternative.
The temporary shelter is “a mere Band-aid solution to a larger problem,” Pratt said. “Let’s do it right. Let’s do it right the first time. We need a bigger shelter to accommodate more people. The issue of homelessness is only going to get bigger and demand will increase as soon as we name we have a homeless shelter. We’ve already seen new homeless people in town” and that’s because the word is on the street a new shelter is coming, he suggested.
“Do not let empathy and sympathy distract you from the cold, hard facts,” Pratt told fellow council members. “This is not a temporary rezoning. It is permanent. Once it is in place it applies to other uses in the future. We will have no control over that. As long as it is not an illegal activity, we own it.”
The mayor concluded noting he’d like to see the motion defeated and a new one tabled for city staff to continue discussions with BC Housing and “encourage them to do a request for a proposal to build a proper, permanent shelter which will serve the vulnerable people we are talking about.”
At the end of the discussion and vote, Coun. Graham informed council he will be soon putting forward a motion to invite BC Housing to “work on a site for a permanent supportive housing unit.”
Watch the full hearing and council deliberation.