July 16th, 2024

Rezoning request for LHA proposal gets mixed reaction from public

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on September 27, 2023.

Herald photo by Al Beeber A 'no tresspassing' sign is seen at the site on Stafford Drive North where Lethbridge Housing Authority will be building a 30-bed supportive housing project.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The questions were asked and as councillor Rajko Dodic told his fellow members of city council, they were answered during a lengthy and contentious public hearing last Tuesday afternoon into a request to rezone a property so Lethbridge Housing Association can build a 30-bed supportive housing unit.

After hearing five-minute presentations by a multitude of people for and against the proposal change the property at 416 Stafford Drive North from General Commercial to Direct Control, council voted unanimously support the amendment by an 8-0 vote. Deputy mayor John Middleton-Hope was absent from the meeting.

Bylaw 6411 addresses the vacant property where LHA will be building a facility with 30 supportive units as well as a pharmacy and medical clinic on the site. Supportive housing wasn’t allowed under previous zoning.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen, in addressing the matter after hearing closed, stated that “everybody deserves a life of sobriety,” noting that housing is always a topic of discussion in Lethbridge.

Councillor Mark Campbell simply stated “we need supportive housing” while colleague Jenn Schmidt-Rempel noted the project will let people rebuild their lives.

Councillor Nick Paladino noted that some feel the issue is a northside versus southside discussion, saying that the LHA has “stepped up to the plate again” to help the community. He took a pointed remark at some opponents who want the homeless removed from Lethbridge, saying “we can’t just take it out the county – it’s not our jurisdiction.”

During her presentation, LHA CAO Robin James said “the worst thing we can do as a community at this point is turn our back to this and do nothing.”

James stated – in light of erroneous comments that have been made online – the facility will not be a supervised consumption site. It’s also not going to be a drop-in centre or resource centre, James stated.

Opponents of the project have cited the location as one reason for speaking against it, there being a feeling by some that the northside is being used as a dumping ground for the homeless. But at the hearing, it was pointed out that of the more than 800 housing units operated by LHA, more than 500 are on the southside and just over 100 are located in north Lethbridge.

Speakers in favour of the project included the likes of Gordon Leigh, Bev Muendel-Atherstone and others who cited the need to help the homeless.

In presentations and letters submitted to council, opponents questioned the location.

LHA is a housing management body that operates under a ministerial order.

Since April 1, LHA has been a community based organization administering funding on behalf of the Government of Alberta, James said.

An opponent named Sherry Mcauley, who lives and works in the neighbourhood, told council if approved the project would set a precedent in the remaining 19 acres in Broadview district as to what other businesses may consider for building there as they will be surrounded by as they may be surrounded by the wet shelter, drop in shelter and supportive housing for substance users.

She asked if future units would be built in the same area or elsewhere and said there had been little public consultation.

Muendel-Atherstone said not everyone grows up in intact families and some people flee from intolerable circumstances when they’re children and that survival when homeless requires a completely different skill set than when living within four walls. People who live unhoused are trying to avoid being, raped, beaten and robbed, she added.

“It’s hard for us to understand this so if you truly want to help leave the life of being unhoused, this program of supportive housing provides exactly that opportunity,” said Muendel-Atherstone adding the City is at a crossroads.

“We have a chance to actually help today.”

One speaker, Leslie Lavers, talked about how the Mustard Seed came down from Calgary with the intention of operating a supportive housing facility but the City didn’t work with that organization.

“So lets start again, let’s start making transformations one project at a time,” Lavers said.

Thomas Mountain, a senior operating officer of Alberta Health Services told council said the planning that it’s been participating in with LHA has been promising in terms or providing services.

When a recovery oriented system of care in Lethbridge and southern Alberta is considered, supportive housing is a key component, Mountain said in support of the project.

Sarah Amies, executive director of downtown Lethbridge BRZ, said it is supporting the LHA bid.

“It is imperative the city continue the development of a strategic and sustainable plan.”

Leigh, who spent 26 years in social work with the John Howard Society, told council the issue wasn’t about the rezoning but about fear of people and the idea that the homeless pose a safety risk to others living and working in the area.

“Yet what more safety is there than to provide the basic accommodation of a secure place to live with access to a bathroom and a meal each day?”, he asked in an accompanying letter to council.

“What then is driving fear? Surely, it is motivated by ignorance, prejudice, discrimination which is directed, not against the room but against people: the poor and the needy,” added Leigh, who played major roles in establishing the first soup kitchen and food bank here.

“It is not motivated by concern, understanding and a desire to provide help and assistance to those who need it most, by providing the very basics of security and sustenance, a roof over one’s head and a meal. The Lethbridge Housing Authority social housing project at 416 Stafford Drive proposes to do something about that,” Leigh’s letter added.

“There is a need for a fully developed housing continuum” in Lethbridge, she added. saying the city must provide the best support it can for struggling citizens

One opponent asked why it would be put next to a “mobile injection site,” and pointed out it will be close to Sifton Youth Centre and a daycare centre, calling it a poor choice of location and poor use of funds. This person added she was in favour of the idea of supportive housing, but not the location chosen for this project.

Letters of support for the LHA initiative that were in council’s agenda package included one from a social worker and former employee of LHA who said he is in constant contact with the population the project would serve.

“In working with members of our homeless population, I have learned that

even when street involved folks put in all the effort required, there is often not enough appropriate housing available for them to get off the streets. . .While I

genuinely believe that every human is capable of change, this City currently does not have the required conditions to allow for that change to stick. Unfortunately, this results in folk finding housing, being evicted, and ending up doing what they need to do to meet their basic needs. A project like this would be a step in the right direction,” wrote Jon Bateman.

Bateman added “since 2018, I have witnessed an increasing amount of cynicism towards our unhoused population, and towards the organizations that provide services to this population. I fear the consequences of this cynicism becoming so ingrained in Lethbridge’s culture that we cannot recognize a good, safe, well thought out project

when we see it. In order for anything to get better, trust needs to be built.

Another supporter, Keilan Scholten, wrote “I was happy to see this rezoning application by the Lethbridge Housing Authority and know that zoning has

been a barrier to much needed services in Lethbridge in the past. I’m fully in support of the rezoning in question, and of reducing the red tape around zoning in general.”

Mary Tokarski also showed support in a letter stating “I went to the July 11th open house and was very impressed with the project and the people who are involved with bringing this to fruition. My family owns a strip mall on Stafford Drive North directly across from this proposed project. All my questions were answered at the open house and I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t go ahead. The facility will not affect any homeowners or businesses in the area (not like the SCS did) and people have to understand the difference between supportive housing and shelters in order to make a knowledgeable decision on this matter.”

Another supporter Saige Hansen wrote “I have worked in the areas of mental health, disabilities, addictions, housing, community support, young adults, seniors, outreach, and some others; this is a service that is desperately needed in this community. For many who experience chronic homelessness, to immediately transition to independent living can be difficult; many require support in building independence to ensure they are successful. In a city of over one hundred thousand people that also serves many rural communities nearby, there are extremely few realistic supportive living options for adults between 18-65-as a result, these programs have extremely high wait lists.

“These individuals are left with nowhere else to go-they have tried everything, and they are left to the streets where they are forced to focus only on getting their next meal and a roof over their head for that night,” Hansen added in her submission.

One opponent, Darlene McLean – who also spoke on Tuesday – wrote “basically it appears as though the city is just moving or trying to move more of these types of services to the Senator Buchanan area. It already has the 2nd highest crime rate in the city. There is 2 day cares within a 1 block and 2 block radius. A junior high within 1 block and an elementary school within 2 to 2 and 1 half blocks. . .

“I can understand why many downtown business owners and residents are

saying: Dump it on the north side. The city is playing different areas and residents against each other and creating tension with these moves. The business owners and residents of the north side are effected by a much larger radius than 60 meters. Ask downtown business owners and residents about that. Just relocating these issues – does not solve them. The city had the shelter downtown about 30 years ago.”

Resident Rhonda Boreen also opposed the proposal, stating in her written submission it is “irresponsible of the city to locate this so close to the homeless shelter and supervised consumption van at the shelter. Irresponsible of the city to locate this so close to the Sifton House. This area of the city is already densely populated with supportive housing locations, this needs to be spread across the city. Our land values deteriorating. . .safety concerns due to density of supportive housing already in the neighborhood and more.

Also opposed was Susan Shannon who stated “there has been virtually no public consultation. There is too much concentration of these kinds of housing on the northside. After SCS we cant trust phase 1 or any future projects.”

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