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Trail council rejects moving homeless shelter to Gulch

Trail city council has said no to the idea of moving the city’s homeless shelter from downtown to the Gulch.

Council voted 6-1 tonight to deny a temporary use permit that would have allowed the shelter to relocate to a vacant city-owned lot at 585 Rossland Avenue for up to three years while another location is sought for a permanent supportive housing project.

The was despite a recommendation from city staff to approve it.

Councillor Thea Hanson called it the “first of many tough decisions we’re going to have to make as councillors” and said it followed “two weeks of sleepless nights to think about doing the right thing.”

She said she has had many emotional conversations and received over 50 emails and numerous phone calls on the subject.

She said the site was identified as an “11th hour solution” after BC Housing was unable to come to terms on other properties. But while it would expedite moving the shelter out of downtown, she felt it wasn’t the right location.

Hanson said she was concerned for the safety of those using the shelter given the truck traffic through the Gulch, and felt the modular trailers proposed were not a good look for one of the city’s entrances. She further felt that moving the shelter a few kilometres from its current location “is not solving the problem.”

Only councillor Paul Butler supported the site, although he proposed a number of conditions including round-the-clock security, daily cleanup by the shelter operator within a 400-metre radius, and additional security on days when the nearby Colombo Lodge has events.

“It’s the worst location we could come up with, but it’s the only location we could come up with,” Butler said. He further asked those who knew of other suitable sites to come to BC Housing with realistic offers.

“We have gone through almost every possibility. This is where we’ve come to. I challenge those out there who know individuals who own properties you see as being suitable sites to come back to the table.”

Butler said one location suggested near the old bridge has been explored, but it falls within the flood plain.

The decision throws the future of the shelter in doubt.

BC Housing’s Tyler Baker said he was “not certain” they would be able to find an alternate site before the temporary use permit for the current shelter expires at the end of September, a deadline imposed by the previous council.

Before making its decision, council heard from Interior Health, which supported the site. However, it also heard from 16 residents, most of whom objected to the location. Several said there should have been public consultation on the site before it came before council.

“It is impossible for council to vote yes on this proposal with the information given to us today,” said Gerald Klassen, who owns commercial and residential property in the Gulch. “It cannot go.”

School trustee Terry Hanik proposed an alternate site on unserviced land outside of city limits.

City manager Colin McClure said part of the challenge is that the city’s official community plan makes no provision for a shelter, so any site would require a temporary permit and need to accommodate modular construction.

Although members of the public criticized BC Housing for not involving them in the search, McClure said they had to move quickly with the looming deadline.

“The fear is if we don’t have a temporary solution while we continue to look for a permanent solution, we will have no shelter,” he said.

Mayor Colleen Jones initially proposed postponing the decision to give staff time to address some of the concerns raised, but found no seconder. She estimated 150 people were present at city hall tonight plus another 114 online.

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