The City of Summerside is allowing restricted use for a parcel of land at 25 Frank Mellish Dr. for a 10-bed emergency shelter, but the P.E.I. government is not being given carte blanche.
Council voted 6-2 Monday night to approve the use in the area. Councillors Cory Snow and Bruce MacDougall voted against the resolution, which came in response to an application from the provincial government.
Housing advocates in Summerside have been calling for an emergency shelter in the city for years.
"I'm very excited that they did the right thing and they voted to push this through," says Elysha Whitlock with The Village, a group that aims to help people experiencing homelessness by helping clients find housing and providing hot meals.
"We all know there is going to be follow-up meetings involved, but my fear was the longer the process took the longer we'd be waiting for the shelter doors to eventually open. So, I greatly appreciate the six city council members that pushed that through."
Both Snow and MacDougall said they wanted more information from the province on how the site would be run and what non-governmental organization might be tasked with running it.
On Tuesday, Housing Minister Rob Lantz said choosing an operator is the next step.
He said Summerside's shelter will likely be similar to the mobile setup on Park Street in Charlottetown.
"It provides a solid foundation, a building from which we can operate, but that can be set up and configured very quickly."
'We have been advocating, and asking for... and calling and nudging and everything we possibly can be doing to try and move this along,' says Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher. (Tony Davis/CBC)
With temperatures falling below zero, Lantz said he had hoped to get the shelter started earlier. It is now expected to be complete by early spring.
Whitlock said the matter is urgent.
"We have over 30 people sleeping on the streets of Summerside right now. We are right in the middle of winter. We are risking people dying from being out in the cold," she said.
"I have now had to add a 20-pound first aid kit in the trunk of my car with all the other supplies I carry 24/7. I now am dedicating quite a bit of time to bandaging frostbite wounds."
Snow attempted to table the vote until more information was provided by the province — that was seconded by MacDougall — but Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher broke the tie, voting against the motion to table the resolution. Kutcher said it was important to give everyone a chance to speak.
"As a matter of principle, 99 per cent of the time when there are councillors who haven't had the opportunity to speak about something, and there is a motion to table which would effectively end the debate and the discussion, and if I am called on to break a tie, I will always break for the side of continuing discussion and debate," he said.
Coun. Justin Doiron says he wishes the emergency shelter zoning was discussed 6 months ago. (Tony Davis/CBC)
Summerside's municipal planning board gave residents an opportunity to comment on the province's application for the shelter last month.
At that meeting, some people objected to the proposed location for the shelter, saying it is too close to Summerset Manor, a long-term care facility. Some worried the shelter could bring similar challenges as the Community Outreach Centre in Charlottetown.
Charlottetown residents have complained about increased public drug use, threats and property damage since the outreach centre was established.
"We have two balancing safety concerns. We have the safety concerns absolutely of our vulnerable population, our unhoused … everyone is trying to find a way to support that population," Kutcher said.
"And then we have the safety and security issues that a number of residents are concerned about in the area. So, that is why the council added some more language ensuring there be 24-hour security at the space."
Council wants final approval of plans
The shelter would operate each day from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., but MacDougall said he wanted to see 24-hour security on site. That request was added to a list of the conditions the province must adhere to.
Summerside city staff and council approval of the site plan
Council approval of the operational and staffing model following a presentation by the operator.
Council's approval of a safety plan, including 24-hour security and fencing, with input from police services
Every councillor stated they were in favour of providing an emergency shelter, but they were not happy with the timeline.
During the meeting, Snow said the province was looking at April as a possible timeline to get the shelter up and running, according to comments provincial officials made at a previous meeting.
The proposed site for the shelter is 25 Frank Mellish Dr. (City of Summerside)
Coun. Justin Doiron expressed concern that the project is too slow getting opened, and said he wishes the province submitted the application six months ago so more people could get out of the cold.
Budget in place for 25-bed shelter
Kutcher is frustrated with the pace to get the shelter in place.
"We have been advocating, and asking for … and calling and nudging and everything we possibly can be doing to try and move this along."
Last month, officials with the province said four non-government organizations have applied to run the shelter.
The P.E.I. government's new capital budget, delivered in November, includes $2.4 million for a 25-bed emergency shelter in Summerside. In December, Jason Doyle, director of housing services for the province, said the plan is to increase the number of beds to 25 eventually.
Those beds could be a mix of emergency shelter beds and transitional housing, Doyle said.
Now that the rezoning has been approved, the province has to come back to council and explain who will operate the shelter, how it will operate, what security measures will be put in place and what the site will look like, Kutcher said.