PEACE Foundation seeks permit for drop-in centre

Shown is the exterior of the proposed warming centre/community centre in Peace River.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The PEACE Foundation has had another open house at their proposed downtown office and drop-in community centre, this time as part of the process of getting their development permit.

Many area residents attended Oct. 17 to ask questions and express their concerns.

“This has been a cosmetic renovation of this structure, so no permits are required for that. We are at the point now where the PEACE Foundation has applied for a development permit, and it’s before us,” says Alisha Mody, municipal planner.

Mody says the Town wants public feedback before issuing a decision on the permit, which is not a usual part of the process.

“Normally we don’t have that kind of communication beforehand, so we’re trying to do a little bit more in this circumstance, because we know that there are a variety of interests.”

Mody says community feedback will be taken into account no matter what the final decision turns out to be.

“When we make that decision, if it’s a yes, it can be a yes with conditions, and those conditions can be informed by what we hear. So we’re trying to make the best decision we can for the Town,” she says.

The Town has drawn the line between whether the facility is a drop-in centre or a full shelter based on overnight accommodation. No one will be allowed to stay overnight at the proposed drop-in centre.

“I want to be very clear this is one, not a shelter, two, it is not only for homeless people, it’s for anybody,” the PEACE Foundation’s Sherry Hilton says.

“What we’re hoping to create is a sense of community.

“We really hope that the different agencies take advantage of this facility. Right now you’ve got the Homeless and Poverty Reduction Committee. We’ve noticed we’ve got to bring services together. This could be the hub,” she adds.

The PEACE Foundation is hoping to host community meals to fill gaps, and wants to collect track pants and T-shirts so people can have their laundry done. The centre will also allow people to bathe.

Hilton says the foundation doesn’t have the money to pay for staff, so they will rely on volunteers with various types of training.

The foundation wants to have three volunteers on duty at all times, but hours of operation are still uncertain.

The centre will have security cameras on the premises and padlocks to prevent squatting.

“That’s my biggest concern is when we’re not open them hanging out and squatting on the land, which we don’t want to have happen,” Hilton says.

“We could open right now if we were allowed to, but it’s the red tape and the paperwork and not knowing exactly where all this is leading to. Like, are we going to be allowed to be open to seven at night, 10 at night, 11 at night?” says PEACE Foundation vice-president Mary Durka.

“I’m frustrated because this zoning allows hotel, motel, bed and breakfast, and animal shelter, but humans don’t get to have that,” Hilton says.

“That line, the biggest problem is zoning, has been the line that’s been spoken many times, and I would argue that it is not the zoning because the zoning only allows you to apply for a permit,” Mody says.

“Until this time, the Town has not received an application that they felt comfortable proceeding with … where we saw there was enough structure supporting that permit where we would feel comfortable giving it a yes. So it’s not the zoning. It’s the fact that we don’t want to set up a situation where we have the zoning in place but ultimately the answer is still no because the application doesn’t actually make sense.”

Mody says that the issue of homelessness itself remains difficult for the Town to grapple with because of the limits of their authority.

“There is still limited scope for what the Town’s authority is, and that’s where we really struggle, is the Town doesn’t have specific resources earmarked for this. The Town doesn’t have specific authorities related to this. Housing is not something that falls within the Town. Land use does, but housing itself doesn’t,” she says.

Mody says the reason the PEACE Foundation’s community centre has gotten further than the controversial PurpleRung mini pod housing project for the homeless is simply that PurpleRung’s structures didn’t meet building codes, which the Town does not set.

“One of the reasons this has gotten further than they have is this is a physical structure that has been in place for many years, it’s a structure that meets the building code of the day when it was built,” Mody says.

Peace River Town Councillor Johanna Downing says the process of setting up the community drop-in centre is very similar to setting up the women’s shelter, which has been operating in town since the fall of 1990.

“It was the brainchild of a number of volunteer groups not unlike the group that’s working here with this initiative. It’s very similar,” Downing says.

“It’s the same process that’s occurring right here today. And as Sherry said, they’re all baby steps that you have to take to achieve that goal.”

“The same conversation happened then, if you look in the town records,” Mody says.

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