Trail city council will let the La Nina homeless shelter continue to operate for another year while it seeks another temporary location outside of downtown.
Council voted 5-1 tonight in favor of extending the shelter’s permit, which was less than the three years BC Housing originally sought. The current one-year permit, which allowed the shelter to expand from eight to 18 beds, expires at the end of the month.
If a new location isn’t found within a year, the shelter will shut down, as no further extension can be granted. Council heard that although the shelter can continue to operate with fewer beds without an extension, the agency that runs it isn’t willing to do so, because they don’t want to turn people away.
“I’m not crazy about extending the permit, but this will provide a basis for moving it out,” said councillor Robert Cacchioni, who called the decision a “compromise position” that could lead to a permanent solution. “Within one year I think they will fulfill that promise. It’s the best for everyone.”
The extension comes with two conditions: by Oct. 31, BC Housing has to provide an updated life-saving plan for the shelter as well as an update on a commitment to provide daily security from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The agency has already agreed to those things.
City manager Colin McClure told council BC Housing and the City of Trail are exploring “a couple” of potential locations, although they were not revealed at the meeting.
However, BC Housing representative Tyler Baker indicated it would involve “modular” housing and said they have completed similar projects elsewhere in less time, and while municipal approvals are required, they are confident they can deliver within a year.
Even if a temporary location is found, BC Housing would continue to seek a long-term supportive housing solution, Baker said.
Councillor Paul Butler said the turning point came in a meeting with Housing Minister Murray Rankin at the recent Union of BC Municipalities convention, attended by himself, McLure, and mayor Lisa Pasin.
“We’ve moved the needle on the issue,” councillor Paul Butler said. “I feel what BC Housing is bringing to the table is workable … These small steps and not big promises are the things that will lead to lasting change.”
Councillor Sandy Santori, a former provincial cabinet minister, said he was “somewhat encouraged” by the commitment offered by the ministry, as often such meetings don’t produce tangible results.
However, he maintained senior government “has failed miserably with dealing with drug addiction and mental illness” and “hasn’t come close” to investing the money required to deal with the opioid crisis. He said even if a supportive housing project is built in Trail, it won’t be a “silver bullet” to solve the problem.
Pasin said the city made its point to government that the situation was dire because of how long it was taking to relocate the shelter, “but completely disenfranchising people is not the right thing to do. If we shut this, we are are on our own.”
Councillor Carol Dobie was the lone dissenting vote, although she called it a “very difficult situation” and thanked the city’s representatives to the UBCM convention for “cracking the egg open.”
“My vote is simply to stand with the local businesses,” she said. “I have no doubt we will move ahead as progressively as we possibly can.”
Councillor Eleanor Gattafoni Robinson declared a conflict of interest on the matter and was not present for the discussion.
Council originally discussed the matter at length in August, but deferred a decision pending a legal opinion. The advice they received stated that if they extended the permit for three years, they could not revoke it midway through if conditions were not met or the situation downtown didn’t improve.
Council heard the shelter serves 37 people per day, not all of whom require a place to sleep, but access other services. The vast majority have lived in Trail for at least two years. They also heard many problems associated with the shelter are due to people who do not stay there.
Monday’s two-hour discussion took place before a packed public gallery with about another 50 people viewing online.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated councillor Colleen Jones was at the meeting with the housing minister. However, she was part of the Trail delegation that later met with BC Housing.