Great project but wrong location.
There was no appetite at city hall Tuesday to allow an emergency 20-bed winter shelter/housing project for women at the highly visible location of Five Corners.
Many said they strongly supported the work done by Ann Davis Transition Society in Chilliwack, but not at the proposed site on Yale Road at Young.
After much debate, council voted unanimously against issuing a temporary use permit (TUP) for a six-month Winter Housing project proposed by ADTS.
Several speakers were in favour.
Coletta Holmes of the Chilliwack and District Seniors Resources Centre, who lives and works downtown, said she was there to speak in support. Senior women on their own are often at higher risk of insecure housing situations, largely due to gender inequality, she said.
“I don’t feel that what I see downtown is going to change any time soon,” said Holmes. “So the only chance we see is having more services there, so someone in crisis can be quickly redirected. It’s not going away.”
Amelia Roberts of Tzeachten said she was in support, reminding the crowd, “they’re human beings” who need help. Roberts said she was glad people “were proud of their businesses” but the need for shelter was great downtown since so much low-income housing was torn down.
Some business owners, including those who live and work downtown, were livid about the proposal.
Twyla Johnson spoke against the location, reading a letter by the owner of the building being renovated at Young Road and Princess Avenue, next to the proposed shelter.
“We feel so strongly about this being an inappropriate location that we will more than likely cease our renovation and move to a new location, if this is approved,” she said.
Several said the business community can’t handle the impact of another social service provider setting up downtown.
BIA executive director Kyle Williams said it would be a “step backward” given the substantial resources invested in property, security, events and more.
“We also know that a temporary housing service is an urgent need as the colder months approach,” BIA president Alvin Bartel wrote in a letter to council on the proposal. “We feel very strongly, however, that the proposed downtown location is not an appropriate one, and urge that all parties involved endeavour to find a location outside of the downtown commercial core.”
Business owner Cameron Hull said he had “serious concerns” about the location, not ADTS. He said he could not support allowing a women’s shelter where the “wolves” are, downtown.
“As a shepherd we don’t lead our sheep to wolves,” he said.
In Vedder they have “zero services” for the homeless.
“This neighbourhood has done enough,” Hull said about downtown.
Patti MacAhonic, executive director of ADTS, said she was “beyond disappointed,” by the decision, since the shelter had already received funding confirmation, and the need was so critical.
She said they are hoping to hear better news soon.
“I understand that people are concerned,” said MacAhonic during the hearing, adding that the shelter would be a “hybrid,” where they would stay in the housing, some for 30 days, and not have to leave every morning.
The urgent need is getting them off the streets.
“This is about safety for my staff, and the clients we serve.”
They run a “tight ship” at ADTS, with an established track record, the expertise and support to pull it off, she said.
“We are good at this, and it will help women get connected with services,” she said.
The goal was “getting women stabilized” for the winter, and then looking to a more long-term solution in a new facility, said the ADTS rep.
They had 14 letters of support, sent by email, but Mayor Sharon Gaetz said they did not have a record of having received that many.
Mayor Gaetz said many critics were asking the city why the downtown was being proposed.
“We looked high and low for other locations, and could not find one,” said MacAhonic.
Mayor Gaetz asked MacAhonic if she had approached the neighbours around the proposed location.
“We ask that you get the support of the neighbours, to have that buy-in. Otherwise it pits neighbour against neighbour,” said Gaetz. “This is a very unusual TUP application.”
It was a tough call for Coun. Sam Waddington.
“We’re in an impossible situation,” he said, about council’s position, adding it was the “right project, wrong location.”
Mayor Gaetz said council had heard “loud and clear” from the community, which was feeling the stress and pressure from increased homelessness and visible addiction.
“I think we can do better,” she said, advising the applicant to “meet with the neighbours” once another locale is in sight, and gather support if a new application is to be forthcoming.
“We certainly don’t want to see this funding go by the wayside,” said Gaetz.
Coun. Sue Attrill’s message was “great organization but wrong location,” and “All I can say is don’t give up.”’
But “no one wants this in their neighbourhood,” said MacAhonic. “Everyone wants to help, but not if it’s next to them.”
She had secured funding for staffing, security and renovations the building.
Since the shelter TUP was turned down by council at the end of the meeting, ADTS reps will likely be seeking another location to apply once again.
Coun. Jason Lum wondered if there were any city-owned properties that could be considered, the way they did when Cyrus Centre needed a location.
“I am a little worried about the timing,” he said, asking if staff could help in seeking another location.
Coun. Ken Popove said there are more good things coming for Chilliwack. He was happy to hear of support from neighbouring First Nations and hopes that will be an avenue that can be explored further.
“Our work is not done yet,” he said.