Charlottetown council unanimously rescinds emergency shelter deferral

Charlottetown city council has unanimously voted to rescind its deferral on a decision to allow a provincial emergency shelter to open on Park Street, next to the old government garage. 

Resolution passed 10-0 in special meeting Thursday afternoon

About 20 protesters gathered outside Thursday's meeting, urging the city to act now to help the growing homeless population. (Gabrielle Drummond/Radio-Canada)

Charlottetown city council has unanimously voted to rescind its deferral on a decision to allow a provincial emergency shelter to open on Park Street, next to the old government garage. 

Council met Thursday afternoon to reconsider a decision to defer, made at Tuesday night's regular council meeting, after a special meeting was called by the city's CAO following a request by Coun. Alanna Jankov, supported by two thirds of council.

The province had put forward a proposal to set up two 25-unit modular housing units at 68 Park St., near the Hillsborough Bridge, to house people currently living in tents. Those units are due to be delivered Nov. 1.

But at Tuesday's meeting, council deferred the decision in a 6-4 vote amid concerns residents in the area weren't allowed to give their feedback, partly due to the impact of post-tropical storm Fiona.

A second resolution approving the original proposal passed 10-0 on Thursday.

P.E.I.'s Housing Minister Matthew MacKay said on Wednesday he was "caught very of guard" by the deferral, saying the province would be looking at legal options to have the variance granted and consider possible backup plans.

On Thursday, Mayor Philip Brown said in an open letter addressed to MacKay and Premier Dennis King that "regardless of recent Charlottetown Council decisions," the province needs to work with the city on "immediate" short-term supports for the homeless population.

Brown said he personally called MacKay to discuss the issue, but got no response. At Thursday's meeting, he called on the province to "stop hiding behind criticism of council and mayor."

People without access to affordable places to live have set up tent encampments at various sites around the city since the summer. (Tony Davis/CBC)

'Lack of communication'

The original resolution outlined six conditions:

  • The facility will be operated by the Department of Social Development and Housing/P.E.I. Housing Corporation.
  • It will include two temporary modular buildings, each with 25 beds.
  • Accommodations include a shared living-sleeping space, communal washrooms, showers and laundry facilities. 
  • Hours of operation will be 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., seven days a week.
  • Support staff ad security will be on-site 24 hours per day.
  • Opaque fencing will be placed around the perimeter of the property.

Coun. Mitchell Tweel told Thursday's meeting there are several concerns that need to be addressed, including whether city police will be providing on-site security.

He also questioned why the shelter would be closed for 12 hours a day, asking where the encampment's are supposed to go when the shelter isn't open.

"The motivation for the referral on Tuesday night was not a vote against," Tweel said. "There was a lack of communication, lack of notice to the people in the immediate area."

Coun. Bob Doiron said he would support the resolution, but asked the province to hold a public meeting within 14 days to address the concerns.

"You were elected for these people, so stand in front of them and answer the questions," he said.

'A starting point'

The protesters opposed to the deferral interrupted proceedings briefly with chants for councillors to "do your job." (Gabrielle Drummond/Radio-Canada)

Coun. Terry Bernard urged council to move forward, saying a deferral would mean delays — all while the encampment's residents are still sleeping in tents as cold weather approaches.

He urged council to pass the resolution, then talk with the province about any outstanding issues, saying some recommendations have already been added to the proposal, including the formation of a committee.

"I know people have some concerns and the province said they will address that — and I believe they will," he said. "For us to delay this any further is ridiculous."

Jankov, too, said time is of the essence.

"This is not a perfect solution," she said. "The ideal situation wouldn't be an 8-8 shelter. However, we're at a starting point and we have an obligation to support our most vulnerable in the community."

'Do your job'

About 20 protestors opposed to the deferral gathered outside the meeting, interrupting proceedings briefly with chants for councillors to "do your job."

Tuesday's decision drew fierce criticism from homelessness advocates, who said the city's deferral could put those living in the encampments in danger.

"It's been in talks since August and they have yet to do pretty much anything," Joanna Morrison, community care navigator for Charlottetown Mutual Aid, told CBC News.

"The issue keeps getting tossed back and forth in between the city and the province. Nobody wants to take responsibility for the fact that these people are suffering and they're going to die in the winter if something is not done. So while it was great that he called on the province, do something yourself, Philip [Brown]."

Some cooking appliances left behind after the city seized the propane tanks in the main encampment. (Tony Davis/CBC)

On Wednesday, the Charlottetown Fire Inspector seized propane tanks at the main encampment, with the mayor and police both saying the seizure was based on legitimate safety concerns. 

But Tessa Rogers, a street outreach worker with PEERS Alliance, said that leaves people living there even more exposed to the elements

"[The seizure] adds another risk to these folks because you are taking away their heat source and access to cooking food," she said. "Providing alternative ideas or letting them know, 'Hey, that's not stored safely' ... any of these conversations can go a long way."

A woman living in the encampment told CBC News she already accesses services like the Charlottetown Outreach Centre but is willing to give the new modular homes a try.

But another person said the proposed hours of the shelter don't work for him, and what people experiencing homelessness need is access to affordable housing.

With files from Tony Davis