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Trail seeks legal opinion on homeless shelter permit

Trail city council will seek a legal opinion before deciding whether to renew the permit that lets the La Nina homeless shelter operate with 18 beds.

Several councillors expressed reluctance to extend the permit without greater assurances from BC Housing that it will relocate the shelter away from downtown. They also wanted to know whether the permit could be cancelled if a number of concerns aren’t addressed.

“BC Housing has failed our city, especially if the prime concern is the cost,” councillor Sandy Santori said. “That is, excuse my term, laughable.”

Santori said downtown businesses “have been more than compassionate and understanding and extremely giving to those most vulnerable in our community. But they can only give so much and tolerate so much.”

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He said he would be more inclined to grant an extension if BC Housing could promise a new facility by a certain date.

Career Development Services operates the shelter at 1456 Bay Avenue with support from BC Housing. It originally operated from 9 p.m to 9 a.m from November to March, but since COVID hit they have stayed open around the clock.

A temporary use permit granted last year allowed the shelter expand from eight to 18 beds, but it expires on Sept. 21. BC Housing is seeking a three-year extension while it tries to find a different location.

The shelter also provides meals, laundry, and hygiene supports to about 30 people were day. An outreach team is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and works to clean up graffiti, needles, and to de-escalate situations.

Council was told that turning down the permit extension wouldn’t mean the shelter would close entirely, but it would function with reduced beds and services.

City manager Colin McClure cautioned council that as frustrated as they are with problems associated with the shelter, saying no to the extension could make things worse.

“I’m concerned to think about what happens if we don’t provide this,” he said. “The outcome may be far more difficult for the downtown to deal with.”

BC Housing’s Tyler Baker said they recognize having a shelter creates issues and they are open to exploring temporary as well as long-term locations.

“The issue isn’t simply that the province is unwilling to spend money in Trail,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding the right site. Unfortunately, the sites that have come up so far for a number of reasons, not only price, haven’t [worked out].

“We are continuing to investigate sites extremely diligently, because we know the city and residents are going to be good partners.”

Council is struggling with the decision in part because the Community Charter only allows one renewal of a temporary use permit. After that, the property would have to be rezoned to let the shelter to continue to operate with 18 beds.

The legal opinion council is seeking will specifically address whether council could grant a three-year extension but cancel it sooner. Castlegar recently granted its shelter a similar permit extension, subject to annual reviews.

Between a presentation from BC Housing, hearing from the public, and its own discussions, council spent more than three hours on the subject at its meeting this week.

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