The operator of Charlottetown's Community Outreach Centre is welcoming a move approved by city council Monday night, but she doesn't believe the centre has yet found its final home.
The outreach centre, which provides services to people without housing and others struggling to make their way, was established at the former curling club on Euston Street in June 2021. It has been operated by the Adventure Group since April 2022.
At a special meeting Monday, council narrowly approved a temporary variance for one year to allow a move to Park Street, with the mayor casting the deciding vote in favour to break a tie.
Adventure Group director Roxanne Carter-Thompson, speaking to Island Morning host Mitch Cormier Tuesday, thanked councillors for supporting the move.
"I could be looking at you and saying, 'I don't know what we're doing,'" said Carter-Thompson. "So I'm going to celebrate that there are a group of people that wants to work together, and it's going to take all of us."
The need for services has changed radically even in the short time since the Adventure Group took over the centre 21 months ago, she said.
'I’m going to celebrate that there are a group of people that wants to work together,' says Adventure Group director Roxanne Carter-Thompson. (Tony Davis/CBC)
One factor is the sheer number of clients, which has doubled from the 175 served in April of 2022.
A number of factors have combined to cause this increase: inflation at the grocery stores, people being renovicted and unable to find another rental home during a housing crisis, and difficulty accessing addiction and mental health services.
"When you put that together, that creates greater, complex needs for the people we're working with," said Carter-Thompson.
We all know and we all agree that it's not the right location. It was never meant to be a long-term location. — Roxanne Carter-Thompson
Those changes have underlined the fact that the Euston Street location was never the right place, she said.
"We all know and we all agree that it's not the right location. It was never meant to be a long-term location," she said.
"What is a suitable location? I don't think we're there yet. I think we're at a place where we're going to move again to a temporary location, but it will give us a year where we will be able to look at what is a good location."
More security in new location
The centre has been the focus of many complaints in the neighbourhood, including allegations of trespassing, public drug use, and threats from people thought to be its clients.
Local residents have said the location, close to two schools and senior-friendly apartments, is not appropriate.
Carter-Thompson acknowledged it's been a big challenge managing the property on Euston Street, as well as who was coming and going, and she said the new location will be set up differently.
The Community Outreach Centre should be gone from Euston Street by the spring. (Shane Ross/CBC)
"We've been trying to keep people off [the] property who are preying on the very clients that we work with," she said.
"At Park Street there will be a setup that will allow for a security building," she said, so that only people using the services will be allowed through the gate onto the site.
'It's been hard on everyone'
Charlottetown is not the only community facing these challenges, said Carter-Thompson.
"The landscape of our community has changed, as has the landscape across the country," she said. "We're a traditional community, and it's difficult to watch what's happening."
There are gaps in services right now, but she said the Adventure Group's government partners are keen to fill those gaps. Unfortunately, changes have come quickly, and she said no one in the country has been able to keep up with them.
The plan now is to move the outreach centre to the same property as the overnight emergency shelter on Park Street. (Jane Robertson/CBC)
"I didn't know that supporting vulnerable populations was going to be this hard. I didn't know there was going to be this much division in our community. It's been hard on everyone in our community, and we're part of everyone," she said.
"We all have a vested interest here in how we're going to solve these difficult challenges."
Move within 60 days
In a news release on Tuesday morning, the provincial government said the centre indeed will be moved within 60 days, as it had promised before getting city approval. The property on Park Street is already home to modular housing units acting as emergency overnight shelters.
"This will be a temporary move for one year to allow the province the necessary time to build a model of care that strikes a balance between the needs of clients and the desires of the community and utilizes a 'Housing First' approach," the news release said.
The property on Park Street is already home to modular housing units acting as emergency overnight shelters. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
The province plans to hold engagement sessions with neighbours and the business community during the relocation process, and said it will also put the following supports in place:
Funding for more support from Charlottetown police officers;
On-site security 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
A resident support team to work with homeowners living nearby;
Fencing and a protocol for a secure intake system.
Crews to ensure garbage is quickly cleaned up;
Procedures to work with outreach clients who don't show respect for neighbours, community, and staff.
In another news release, the opposition Liberals said government's plan to centralize services within a single compound "appears ill-considered — and is more of an attempt to conceal government's ineptitude."
It said P.E.I. needs 24-hour shelters, de-centralized services and a greater reliance on professionally delivered services.
"The King government's decision to overlook the operational issues within the centre reflects a lack of commitment to the well-being of vulnerable Islanders," the release said. "This is deeply unfair to the people who require services — and ignores legitimate public and community concerns."