June 24th, 2024

Split vote approves funding for overnight comfort centre

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on December 16, 2022.

Herald photo by Al Beeber People stand outside the door of Streets Alive this week. Council on Tuesday voted to provide funding for Streets Alive to operate an overnight comfort centre until March 31.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Some were chilly about the idea but city council on Tuesday evening voted by a 5-3 margin to provide funding for Streets Alive Mission to operate an overnight comfort centre.

Council agreed to allocate $225,670 from federal Reaching Home funds and $100,000 from taxation following a recommendation from its Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy Advisory committee.

Reaching Home is a Government of Canada grant for homelessness as defined by federal directives, says the City website.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen, along with councillors Rajko Dodic and John Middleton-Hope, voted against the motion. Councillor Nick Paladino was absent for the vote.

Several councillors expressed concerns about the location of the shelter given its impact on nearby businesses who pay as much as 2.6 times more for property taxes as residents, the meeting was told.

Councillor Rajko Dodic said adjacent businesses have made clear their issues with the site of the centre and called it the wrong location.

“To me it doesn’t seem like the concerns of the businesses have been addressed,” Dodic said.

Takara Motz, operations manager with Community Social Development, told council direction was provided to the successful service provider – Streets Alive – to ‘engage with the neighbours in their surrounding area’ which they confirmed they did between November 24 and November 29.”

Motz said CSD staff have talked to LPS “about what’s been going on around the facility as well as the neighbours who have brought forward concerns. We have requested that some of our other service providers prioritize that area,” including the Diversion Outreach Team and Clean Sweep, and have ensured there is security outside the building at night.

CSD has only received one formal complaint, she said. It has also requested LPS to increase patrols in the area.

Councillor John Middleton-Hope brought to council’s attention the recent damage done at the warming station in the Transit Hub as a reason for concern.

Middleton-Hope said bluntly “this is yet another reaction. This is not well planned out. We have been asking administration for over a year to come up with a viable solution, a permanent solution for winter housing. It’s not like winter is a surprise to us and we continue to try and hobble together – and this no fault of anyone in administration – but we try to hobble together responses to this and we are coming up short each and every time.

“This is not the right location, this is a problematic location and until such time we find a proper alternative, we are going to continue to experience this,” the councillor added. “This is not the type of solution we’re looking for.”

Acting mayor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel, who opened debate, said the city should have been prepared but “the reality is the Lethbridge Shelter and Stabilization Centre consistently experiences occupancy pressures during extreme winter weather and we need to activate comfort centres throughout our community. None of them currently offer overnight support.”

She said Streets Alive provided a proposal for 24-hour, seven-day operations through March 31 “bridging a critical gap in our community. It’s not an ideal location, none of these are ideal solutions but it’s the solution we have right now.”

Hyggen couldn’t support the proposal given concerns he’s heard from businesses downtown. Instead, he suggested using buses for warming centres, an initiative which he said is used successfully in other communities.

“It’s going to cause more and more concerns. I know we do need an area, this is not it,” added the mayor.

Deputy mayor Ryan Parker supported the funding, saying an appropriate location does need to be found. But he said it’s important for the city to show a social conscience.

“We need to take care of these people that are at risk. There is a funding source and there’s people freezing…I believe it’s incumbent upon myself as a member of council to help these folks out. If we don’t, these folks will find heat or shelter some way and they may break in somewhere to get that heat, to get that shelter. So if we don’t have an appropriate location with the proper funding in place for six months, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Parker added.

Councillor Jeff Carlson also supported the initiative saying “we should be better prepared but the fact is we’re not so I haven’t heard an alternate plan” pointing out temperatures are expected to drop to -30 next week.

If council waits until its next meeting Jan. 24 to address the matter, “that is not responsive. We’ve got time, let’s approve this now, let’s do better planning for next year. Let’s spend time getting a plan in place, an alternative in place,” Carlson added.

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There seems to be something wrong with this City Council there is a facility called the Sokootoki Friendship center on second ave south that could be a proper comfort station not a fire pit outside to stand around. Do the indigenous not have compassion for their people? If Kissick needs money go to the Victory church his sponsor, not the taxpayers. Carlson would spend money on anything maybe his Performing arts center put taxpayers on the hook for $75 million.