Potential new home for The Pas homeless shelter in doubt
Several residents express concern about downtown location at public hearing
The future of the only homeless shelter in The Pas is in doubt after several residents opposed moving it to the town's downtown core.
Manitoba Housing applied for a conditional use permit to run Oscar's Place out of a building at 202 Edwards Avenue, which is in the middle of several downtown businesses. The Pas Friendship Centre abruptly announced they would no longer run the shelter in September of last year, leading to volunteers and Manitoba Housing to take it over.
The shelter had been given a deadline of March 31, 2018 to move out of their current building at 344 Ross Avenue. Manitoba Housing is currently negotiating an extension to June 30, but that has not been finalized.
In an issue sheet presented to council on Feb. 12, town CAO Randi Salamanowicz said her office received numerous calls about the shelter being moved.
"Fischer and Edwards are considered our core business area and as much as this use is a conditional use in that zone, it doesn't necessarily fit in with the surrounding businesses," she wrote.
"Since the announcement of this proposed location staff has received an incredible amount of calls against this location, however people are afraid to voice their concerns [publicly] as it is perceived their comments will be received as racist rather than what they believe to be the real concern."
That real concern, Salamanowicz says, is an uptick in loitering, disorderly behaviour and damage to property in the area.
At an hour-long public hearing Feb. 12, numerous business owners objected to the move.
"We are concerned that future potential companies may not want to invest large sums of money, as we did, in the future of The Pas and the downtown area with an increased homeless presence," Springhill Dental, which recently moved onto Edwards Street, wrote in a letter read to the crowd.
The Pas Chamber of Commerce said area members are unanimously against the move.
"Our members have expressed concerns with personal safety while being downtown, giving up a prime business space to a non-commercial entity, cleanliness of the area," they wrote.
'Against the clock'
A spokesperson for Manitoba Housing addressed the crowd of about 30 people, saying they're aware the decision is difficult and they will respect council's decision.
"Looking at 202 Edwards … we knew we were working against the clock if we wanted to secure a location," said Harold Smith, executive director with Manitoba Housing's northern region.
"We're not telling you it's the best location, but it will meet the needs of the shelter."
Manitoba Housing has yet to find viable alternatives, he said, but added they are open to suggestions.
"We've really done a lot through word of mouth, we've contacted people locally, and that option that's been mentioned [staying at the Friendship Centre], we're certainly open to more discussion on that one as well. If we're able to secure a longer term there then we would."
We're not telling you it's the best location, but it will meet the needs of the shelter.- Harold Smith, Manitoba Housing
The downtown area has had a run of bad luck, said Mayor Jim Scott, including a major fire last summer that levelled the Town Centre Hotel. He said he's not convinced moving the shelter to that area is best for the area businesses or the residents of the shelter.
"The current location is owned by The Friendship Centre, it was built as an emergency shelter transition or a homeless shelter … and we just don't see any reason why the Friendship Centre and the group that operates the homeless shelter … why they can't come to some sort of a deal."
Running a homeless shelter was never part of The Friendship Centre's mandate, Scott says. Initially the centre, Manitoba Housing and the federal government ran the shelter, but eventually, the centre was left running the program. Last year, they said they could no longer afford to operate the shelter.
A volunteer group called Stand Up for Oscar's Place has been running it since, but they can't afford to run the programming and pay the $6,000 a month in rent to The Friendship Centre, Scott says.
Chad Zolinski, spokesperson for Stand Up for Oscar's Place, says Manitoba Housing is in the process of negotiating a lease for the shelter to run until June 31 but the paperwork has not been signed.
He also says the group offered to buy the building for $1, but The Friendship Centre did not respond to that request.
"It was built with public money," Zolinski said, adding the centre told the board they have other plans for the building.
A phone message left for The Friendship Centre was not immediately returned Monday.
Scott said he's doubtful council will approve the conditional use permit at the next meeting.
"We have a number of people that utilize the homeless shelter [who] for whatever reason — likely mental health issues, likely alcohol addiction issues — have become somewhat intimidating, almost violent. We're at the point now where there's virtually nobody in the downtown area prepared to even let them in to use the washroom.
"I'm hoping that Manitoba Housing and The Friendship Centre, along with Stand Up for Oscar's Place, can come to an agreement and have that homeless shelter stay where it is."
Zolinksi agrees that staying put is the best outcome: "[That's] 100 percent our best option."