Five properties in Slave Lake are in consideration for a permanent shelter for homeless people. On Oct. 3, town council approved the re-zoning of four of them to something called Council Direct Control. What this means, in effect, is that when deciding what these properties can be used for, council makes the decision. It takes the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) and the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) out of the equation.

Why do it? The answer is in the report in the Oct. 3 agenda.

“The appeal process can frustrate and even prevent much-needed services from being provided,” the report says. As proposed, the amendments “will give council the ability to find suitable locations…”

The locations are identified in the report only by their legal land descriptions, but roughly speaking they are a former medical clinic on 3rd Ave. NE, the lot on 7th St. NE between the Animal Rescue Committee facility and the town yard, the site of the former daycare building (by the MRC) on 6th Ave. SW and the southeast corner of the fire hall property. The fifth – which is already under the CDC zoning – is the former Phoenix Heights lot east of Hwy. 88.

Council is hoping one of them can serve the purpose. The plan is to start a community consultation process on that early in the new year.

Several people spoke up at the Oct. 3 public hearing – mainly in opposition – about the proposed bylaw change at the public hearing that preceded the council meeting. One was a resident who lives near the 3rd Ave. NE property – the old Associated Medical Clinic building. It had been proposed for a shelter site two or three years ago, but it was turned down by council.

“I think you’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

Downtown business owner Brenna Emes said the shelter shouldn’t be located near downtown.

“I think two of the four shouldn’t be part of this equation,” she said.

Big Fish Bay manager Edie Klassen repeated her opposition to having the shelter at the fire hall site.

“We just want it noted that we’re strongly opposed to this,” she said.

High Prairie School Division Board of Trustees Chair Joy McGregor spoke as somebody affected by the proposal. She presented a scenario in which a permanent shelter would result in an increase in the homeless population. What is council going to do, McGregor asked, if as a result something happens to one of the 1,300 HPSD students?

“What’s going to happen? What am I going to tell the parents?”

Mayor Frankie Ward: “I don’t think doing nothing is a more effective solution. We have this problem with or without a shelter.”

The purpose of the hearing, it’s worth noting, was not to choose a location, or even to discuss homeless shelters. Nor did it have anything to do with the temporary shelter for this winter, which is a separate process. It was about the pros and cons of re-zoning the four properties.

As for this winter’s temporary shelter, CAO Jeff Simpson tells The Leader a report on it will be coming to council fairly soon. In the meantime, the town is looking to hire shelter workers for the season, including a manager and security people.

Joe McWilliams

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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