British Columbia

City of Grand Forks delays eviction of charities after 'haphazard' decision

After handing out an eviction notice and an order to cease operations last week, Grand Forks city council says it rushed the decision and won't force a local soup kitchen to close right away.

City won't back down from notice but has extended deadline to vacate property

Staff and volunteers at the Whispers of Hope Benevolent Association's soup kitchen in Grand Forks, B.C. (Whispers of Hope/Facebook)

The City of Grand Forks is backing down from an eviction notice for a group of local charities — slightly. 

Whispers of Hope soup kitchen and thrift store as well as a neighbouring emergency shelter have had their order to vacate a city-owned property — despite holding a valid lease — extended from 30 days to six months.

Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad says last week's decision, which was made in camera, was admittedly "haphazard."

The decision to reverse last week's notice came after more than 50 people protested outside of city hall. 

However, the mayor is standing behind the delayed eviction citing public safety issues, including the behavior of residents of a nearby homeless camp and a number of alleged bylaw and lease infractions by the charities.

"Because of the severity of the nature of complaints from so many citizens, council reacted and we acted on that," said Konrad.

Continued confusion

Konrad told Jaimie Kehler, guest host of CBC's Daybreak South, that the society was breaking its lease by being in contravention of bylaws including an unsightly premises and issues regarding development permits.

Whispers of Hope (WOH) board chair, Louise Heck, maintained the society is not in contravention of its lease or city bylaws — although there have been issues with the homeless camp which is not located on the leased site. 

In response to the city's demand to clean up the premises, Heck said the society has put up a chain link fence around donation bins and installed a new window so staff can monitor the area to prevent illegal dumping of donations after hours.

According to Heck, the previous city council bought the space with the charity in mind and gave them a good deal on the lease. The cost of moving as well as the threat of increased rent in the future is worrisome, said Heck.

Whispers of Hope Benevolent Association is adjacent to a city park where homeless people have set up tents. The city said it has received a number of complaints and is concerned about public safety. (WOHBA)

Just about ready to go

Treasurer of the WOH board, Melissa Shulga, said the eventual move might not be all bad because she felt the group had outgrown the space and didn't have the backing of the current city council.

"We already had been prepared to move next year because our lease was up and the city hasn't been in favour of us in this location for quite some time," said Shulga.

Konrad said the nearby homeless are clients of WOH and have brought vandalism, discarded needles, noise and fights to the area. He said the complaints have been time-consuming for officials and cost the city thousands of dollars.

Heck said the majority of WOH clients are actually seniors and people with low income and only a small portion are homeless.

She pointed out that six months from now, the emergency shelter — which opens November to March — will be facing an eviction deadline at the height of its winter operations.

She said the population the city is upset about are the exact people who need a shelter, and perhaps year-round.

"They're not a problem in the winter because they're in the shelter," she said, adding that she's seen very few discarded needles in the area. 

Last week, Konrad stated the society should not be punished for the behaviour of a small group of its clients off of its property, but said the services needed to be relocated regardless.

He said he sees no reason why council wouldn't approve a future business permit in another location.

With files from Bob Keating and CBC Radio One's Daybreak South