PEI

Neighbours of Community Outreach Centre in downtown Charlottetown want it moved

"What would be the right location?" Charlottetown's acting police chief asks as people living near the latest location of a social services hub complain of drinking, drug use, nudity and fights involving clients.

‘I’ve actually had her life, my life and my mother’s life threatened,' says local parent

Hailey Gallant says people connected to the Community Outreach Centre have threatened her family, which includes her mother and her five-year-old daughter. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Witnessing physical and verbal fights, drug use, drinking and nudity is now part of daily life for those who live near the Community Outreach Centre in downtown Charlottetown, according to local residents.

Hailey Gallant says her neighbourhood, near Longworth and Euston streets, used to be a great place to live with her mother and five-year-old daughter.

But that all changed, she says, when the centre moved into the former curling club building at 241 Euston St. in June.

"I was in my backyard playing with my daughter and two men and a woman — they were pretty much on top of our fence, hanging over our fence, trying to do intravenous drugs," said Gallant.

"I've actually had her life, my life and my mother's life threatened and told that they're going to take care of my daughter. So everybody can use their imagination about what they think that means." 

Another time, she said, "There was a man trying to lure young adults and children with his pants down."

Gallant recognizes the need for the centre, but says it needs to be well-managed in an appropriate location.

She said the current location, next to two schools and a seniors' home, isn't the right choice — and she's particularly concerned about what will happen in September when school resumes.

The Salvation Army says the downtown location of the outreach centre, in the former Charlottetown Curling Club, allows clients without cars to be able to use its services. (CBC)

Gallant says there are many others in the neighbourhood who are experiencing similar issues, but they won't speak up for fear of "repercussions" from some of the people using the centre.

"I'm not scared. I'm angry at the people who were in charge."

If the centre doesn't move, she says she'll have no choice but to pack her bags.

Services 'vital' to centre's clients

The outreach centre is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It offers support to people seeking financial assistance, counselling, employment, food and housing. Clients can also access the building's washrooms, laundry facilities, telephones and computers, as well as connect with community and government organizations and services.

Gail Rhyno, a neighbour of the Community Outreach Centre, and apartment building owner Alex Jamael are among those speaking out about its current location on Euston Street in Charlottetown. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The Salvation Army, which manages the centre on behalf of the province, said it's aware of the residents' concerns. 

In a statement to CBC News, the charity said the current location is close to Charlottetown's food bank, soup kitchen and mental health services, adding, "These resources are within walking distance, which makes it easier for clients who lack access to transportation to receive assistance."

The Salvation Army said it "strongly encourages" residents who see illegal activity near the centre to call police. 

A statement from the province said the centre's services are "vital to the health and wellness of its clients" but admitted there is still work to do "to create a safe, inviting and accessible environment."

The statement went on to say the province is working with a local design firm to make changes to the centre that will "support the safety of clients, staff, neighbours and the public." 

86 calls to police since June

That's cold comfort for residents and business owners like Alex Jamael, who owns an apartment building near the outreach centre. He says he's had a string of complaints from his tenants.

"It's insane. I get texts and calls that they see needles on the lawn — which is a green space for them that they can't use, families can't use — and that people want their locks changed because they don't feel safe with this centre next door," said Jamael.

Acting Charlottetown Police Chief Brad MacConnell says he believes the Euston/Longworth neighbourhood is safe, even with the Community Outreach Centre in place. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Acting Charlottetown police Chief Brad MacConnell said the police department has received 86 calls related to the Outreach Centre since it relocated in June. He said almost half of those calls involve just four of the centre's clients.

The police force has appointed a liaison officer that checks in daily with the centre 

"What would be the right location?" MacConnell wondered aloud during a CBC interview from the parking lot of the centre.

I don't think continually displacing it to other areas is the answer.- Brad MacConnell, acting police chief

"I think everyone is an advocate for these types of issues until it's close to them, and then once they're impacted by it, they become a little more sensitive to it. I don't think continually displacing it to other areas is the answer."

The centre has been on the move three times since it opened as a pilot project in January 2020 at 211 Euston St. It moved to Birchwood School, which had been vacated due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020. Then it was hosted at Smith Lodge on Weymouth Street until its most recent move. 

MacConnell said he believes the Euston/Longworth neighbourhood is safe, even with the Community Outreach Centre in place. 

"If you measure this against some other parts of the city, you won't see that large of a contrast," he said. 

Assault under investigation

But MacConnell confirmed that on July 28, police were called to the centre because an employee at the outreach centre said she had been assaulted.

When it started life as a pilot project in January of 2020, the Community Outreach Centre was located at 211 Euston St. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

A 31-year-old Charlottetown man was arrested and is facing charges. 

Neither the province nor the Salvation Army agreed to an interview with CBC News.

But in an email exchange, Kyron Newbury with the Salvation Army in Charlottetown said they have five staff members at the centre. When asked what training the staff have, Newbury said the training includes First Aid and CPR, trauma informed care and abuse prevention training. 

'It's going to continue to fail'

Gail Rhyno, who lives in the neighbourhood, said there needs to be a more thorough process put in place to decide the best location for a centre like this. 

"Don't pick this up and plunk it in somebody else's backyard and have the same conversation a year from now, that their neighbourhood doesn't want it," said Rhyno.

"If you haven't thought this through and built a good foundation for this service, it's going to continue to fail."   

Public health officials held a vaccination clinic at the Community Outreach Centre in Charlottetown in February of this year, when it was still located at Smith Lodge. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wayne Thibodeau

Prince Edward Island

Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca

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