Councillors blocking halfway house upgrades, says agency

John Clinton, executive director of St. Leonard's Society of Hamilton, says the city is giving him the run-around on improvements to his Emerald Street halfway house to try to force it to move
John Clinton in one of the narrow hallways at the St. Leonard's Society of Hamilton on Emerald Street South. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The director of a downtown-east halfway house is frustrated at city council's "delaying tactics" as he tries to modernize his facility.

It's a battle John Clinton, executive director of the non-profit St. Leonard's Society of Hamilton, has been fighting for three years.

He wants to bring the Emerald Street South facility, built in the 1900s, up to building standards, make it accessible and provide better social services for the federal parolees who can live there as they transition back into the community.

The latest delay came Tuesday as a scheduled public hearing into his proposals was put off at the request of ward councillor Bernie Morelli, who is away on sick leave. Morelli has made it clear he wants the facility moved out of his ward.

"I think what we're doing is reasonable and it's going to be difficult to stop, so they've put this delaying tactic that's consumed years," Clinton said outside Tuesday's planning committee where the item to address these changes was tabled.

Morelli wants it moved

Morelli asked for the item to be deferred to a later date, said he'd "absolutely" like to see the facility move instead of renovating the current one in his ward.

"Any additions to this magnitude of correction facilities in the inner city, I can't support," he said by phone to CBC Hamilton. "It's not the work they do, it's the location."

In order for the proposed changes to happen, including physical changes like adding an elevator, making rooms and washrooms for accessibility and adding a third story and adding a social services component so former residents can continue to access counseling and employment services, council must approve a zoning change.

The change would zone the facility as a "Community Institution" and also recognize the existing corrections residence as well as the beefed up social services. The capacity of 36 residents will not increase.

City staff support the proposal.

"Because the city has continually changed the zoning criteria from when it opened we're just trying to fit within what their current zoning will allow to stay in that same location," Clinton said. "The use isn't changing."

St. Leonard's on Emerald Street South. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

There is some history to this issue. In June 2010, Clinton said the facility applied to the city for to add a third story and do internal renovations. There was also a minor variance application, he said, because with a new building code his facility was too close to a neighbouring building. The committee of adjustment denied the applications and since then, Clinton has appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board and submitted more applications to the city without luck.

To Morelli, "this indicates they aren't doing what they're allowed to do."

At Tuesday's meeting, other councillors expressed concern about the upgrades.

A small common area inside the facility. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"There is a real concern from this council in my time here about correction facilities coming into the community," Coun. Brad Clark said. "How do we allow this to continue without opening the doors for this facility to be used for a true corrections facility building opposed to what's there right now?"

But in the past three years, Clinton said councillors have not visited the facility.

"We've gone to extraordinary lengths to try and contact our council member and work through this process in a way that would be satisfactory to everybody," he said. "[So far] nothing but resistance and delay."

No concerns

St. Leonard's planner Edward Fothergill even said he doesn't think there is concern from the community. In January, they sent invites to 300 local residents and community officials to an open house and not one person came. A public notice sign for building improvements went up on Feb.1 of this year.

Morelli assures there "will be more discussion" about the renovations that would include community consultation, but those words are not comforting to Clinton.

"There was no public hearing today. [Councillors] can't even hear about it," Clinton said.

The stairwell inside the facility. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Since city council keeps deferring their zoning requests, Clinton said the facility's board of directors can go to the Ontario Municipal Board for approval if they choose.

Clinton made it clear that he just wants to make St. Leonard's a better place to live.

"Our client is a person who is being released to this community," he said. "Our client is a person who is coming out of jail, a person who does better if they are provided services when they are released and its in our community's best interest to provide them with good services so they don't re-offend."