After vigorous debate, city council narrowly passed first and second reading of a zoning amendment that would allow a permanent year-round homeless shelter on a property near the downtown core.
The zoning amendment was passed following a rigorous discussion at the table, as opening up the process to public engagement was a common thread from councillors who supported the amendment, while those in opposition favoured more engagement with BC Housing to consider additional locations and options.
By passing first and second reading, the matter now opens up to a public hearing that will be scheduled before a regular city council meeting on Jan. 18, 2021.
The proposed shelter, on a piece of property that currently houses services offered by the Community Connections Society of B.C., will feature 39 beds for men and 10 beds for women, separated by a dining room and separate washrooms. The proposal is being spearheaded through a partnership between BC Housing and Terry Segarty, the property owner.
Councillors Wayne Price, Mike Peabody, Norma Blissett and John Hudak voted in support of the zoning amendment, while councillors Wes Graham and Ron Popoff, along with Mayor Lee Pratt, were opposed.
“I support pretty much any first reading on any issue,” said Coun. Price, during the discussion. “That allows for the public to become more aware of the topic and it provides council with feedback from the public so we can sit down and look at both sides. We certainly realize that anything to do with the homeless shelters…these types of topics are going to be extremely controversial in the community, and there’s just no getting away with that.
“So I think by allowing for the first reading, we’re going to get both sides of that, we’re going to be able to weight that.”
Coun. Peabody suggested that the location was a perfect fit given the social services and programs offered by the CCSBC in the same building.
“Looking into the location of this and the services that it is connected to, I think this is a great opportunity for the City of Cranbrook,” Peabody said. “I believe if a homeless shelter is going to go anywhere, this is the best place for it to go in order to provide the services to help people get back on their feet.
“From what I can see, this is already a hub for the homeless population given the services that are connected to here.”
While Coun. Popoff and Graham, along with Mayor Pratt, were opposed to the zoning amendment, the concerns centered more over the process of finding a suitable location for a homeless shelter.
Pratt noted his concerns that the city was informed of the proposal during later stages of talks between Segarty and BC Housing, rather than being approached by BC Housing to collaborate and identify options and potential solutions.
“I’m not talking about the location here now, I’m talking about the process,” said Pratt. “The process, is if we do a first and second reading, we’re going to a public hearing. And what comes out of that public hearing is what we’re going to be saddled with. And after that hearing, two weeks later, BC Housing could come and say, ‘You know what, we found another location’ or ‘We found another proponent that fits better in our plans.’
“Now we’ve rezoned something for Mr. Segarty that he’s not going to use. And once we zone it, we’re done. So what I’m saying is I do not think it’s necessary — totally unnecessary — to go into first reading. I think we should go down the path of talking to BC Housing and exploring all the opportunities we have. This is not time sensitive, so lets do it and lets do it right. Lets not do a Band-Aid solution and be saddled with it.”
Coun. Popoff agreed, noting that if discussions between city staff and BC Housing yielded fruit, in terms of identifying another location — or even the same one — it would still go out to public consultation.
“When that process starts, we’ll still have the opportunity for a public hearing and community engagement,” Popoff said. “So we’re not losing the opportunity for our community stakeholders to have their engagement in a public setting. All we’re doing is we’re putting the horse before the cart, which means we need senior staff to work collaboratively with BC Housing first, before we start talking about zoning a piece of land.”
The City of Cranbrook recently received a housing needs report from a consultant that identified a number of housing-related gaps, one of which include people experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.
The report noted that 29 people experienced homelessness in 2018 and 63 in 2020 — a 117 per cent increase — and the lack of a permanent year-round shelter was identified as one of the city’s housing gaps.
“A permanent, year-round emergency shelter is an essential part of the housing continuum that can support individuals experiencing a short-term housing crisis at any time of the year. At a shelter, individuals and families can be supported during a short-stay, assessed and rapidly re-housed when appropriate housing can be matched for them,” reads the report.
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