Castlegar city council has decided to allow a temporary use permit application by The Way out Homeless Shelter to move forward, but not without conditions and reservations.
The shelter at 1660 Columbia Avenue, in the former Flamingo Motel, is operated by Castlegar and District Community Services (CDCSS) with funding from BC Housing. It provides 13 beds — 10 for men, and three for women. It was originally slated as a winter shelter open from November to March, but additional COVID-related funding has kept the shelter open year round.
The permit came before the committee of the whole on July 18, just one week after the Castlegar Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting where the business community voiced numerous grievances related to the shelter.
Some of those grievances included poor communication from the shelter and shelter residents and others accessing services at the site causing disruptions and damages at nearby businesses and residential areas.
Some of those issues are being addressed in the list of things the shelter must do in order for the permit to be approved.
Conditions for approval include addressing problems brought up by local businesses, amending the “good neighbour agreement” by working with the Castlegar Homelessness Collaborative and improving communications. They are also required to complete upgrades to the fire alarm and sprinkler system. The changes must be made before Nov. 1.
When presenting the staff recommendation to council, CAO Chris Barlow said the shelter file is very complex and there are not any easy answers or solutions.
He said the need for the shelter is obvious, noting the shelter has been full since it opened, but acknowledged there have been issues related to shelter operations.
Barlow said there was a clear correlation between the shelter and neighbourhood complaints such as vandalism and human waste left at nearby properties.
When the shelter originally opened downtown, the complaints came from that area, and once it moved, the complaints switched to the new neighbourhood.
Councillor Maria McFaddin also noted the switch in the origin of complaint communications while voicing some of her concerns with approving the temporary use permit.
She said the shelter file is the second most complicated thing to come before council since she was elected.
“I have deep compassion for these people and advocate for them often, and I wrestle with that and residents and businesses that are being impacted and how do we make decisions that hold both party’s needs equally,” said McFaddin.
“I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that it is not working well for all parties involved.”
She also talked about seniors feeling unsafe in their homes and children being impacted by drug use and violent behaviour in their yards.
“These are also vulnerable people who we need to protect.”
McFaddin also talked about the communication issues.
“I am hearing from the business community and the residential community that [communication] is not happening.”
“You [shelter management] say you are working with these [support] organizations, and I want to believe you are — but they say you are not. I don’t know what to do with that.”
McFaddin also voiced concerns over the location.
She said not only has she heard from residents about problems on Columbia Avenue, but has personally, at least once a week, experienced a traffic disruption on Columbia Avenue in the shelter vicinity.
In the end, McFaddin said she would vote in favour of the permit this time, but if changes are not made, she will not do so the next time it comes before council.
Councillor Day Rye also voiced opposition to the location of the shelter.
He also took issue with the shelter’s overdose intervention stats given by CDCSS executive director Kristein Johnson during her presentation to council.
Johnson reported 11 successful interventions even though the shelter says it does not allow drug use at the site.
“That doesn’t build a lot of confidence in me and I don’t think it builds a lot of confidence in the community, when you are saying there are no drugs on site,” said Rye.
Johnson clarified, “We would never say there wasn’t drug use on site — what we would say is that drug use is not allowed on site.”
“We see intervening in overdose as positive in the sense that it is one less person who hasn’t died.”
Rye concluded, “I realize we need a shelter … I just think some of the things that have happened there, some of the way things have been run, some of the lack of education, lack of communication, has put the wrong feeling in a lot of people’s minds in the community.”
Rye said he was concerned with granting the permit for the three years in the proposal, but felt better about granting it once he learned that it will be reviewed annually and could be revoked.
In preparing the recommendation for council, city staff solicited feedback from a variety of organizations, stakeholders and neighbours, including the Castlegar Fire Department (CFD).
The fire department’s main recommendation was that the shelter complete their fire suppression system upgrades.
CFD also reported that so far in 2022, they have responded to 35 incident calls that are believed to be attributable to the homeless in Castlegar.
CFD call volume began to increase in the fall of 2020 when the shelter first opened on 2nd Street, with a 6.85-per-cent increase in 2021 and an 8.36-per-cent increase year-to-date in 2022.
The shelter’s current permit expires in September, and the new one still has some hurdles to cross before final approval is granted by council, including meeting the conditions set forward in the permit motion.
If the permit is approved for three years, it will be reviewed annually each spring.
Staff will provide a report to council at the end of each winter shelter season. The reports will provide feedback on whether the amendments to the good neighbour agreement, communications plan, and CDCSS’s operations have been effective.
These reports will include a recommendation to council as to whether the permit should be maintained, revised, or revoked.