South Peace News
***CORRECTION: This story states that the permit was granted by Town Council when it was actually granted by the Town’s Development Officer. We apologize for the mixup.
A new drop-in community centre in Peace River that hopes to help the homeless, seniors and other vulnerable community members, can officially open.
The PEACE Foundation has been issued a temporary development permit by the Town of Peace River.
“The PEACE Foundation has been trying to get something open for almost a year now,” says Sherry Hilton, foundation spokesperson and driving force behind the idea.
“We should be open in three more weeks as long as we don’t meet up with more opposition,” she says.
In a statement, the Town of Peace River says they are grateful to everyone who took the time to provide feedback on the project and attend the new centre’s open house.
“We acknowledge that this proposal is controversial and the issues surrounding homelessness in Peace River are complex,” the statement reads.
“The Town is striving to balance the PEACE Foundation’s proposal with the concerns of the neighbourhood. Some of those concerns, which were received as written feedback include the potential impacts of the operations on the safety of persons and property, as well as the operational capacity of the PEACE Foundation to successfully provide the space and services proposed.”
The Town says the temporary permit will allow the PEACE Foundation to open the centre as a pilot project, allowing more time to “accurately evaluate the impacts of the use on the adjacent area.”
The permit is subject to multiple conditions. It sets the maximum hours of operation of the centre from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and requires the PEACE Foundation have two staff members on site during those hours.
At the open house, the foundation said they hope to have three volunteers on site at all times, but can’t afford to pay staff until funding for staff is secured. The PEACE Foundation is currently seeking volunteers.
The permit also asks for several security measures. The PEACE Foundation has to keep the front and rear gates closed and locked after hours, and install security cameras by Dec. 15.
The centre also has to have a sign posted with a contact phone number or e-mail.
No beds are allowed in the centre, which the permit says is “under ‘Office” use.”
While Hilton insists the new centre is not a homeless shelter, she adds having beds for the homeless to sleep in would not make the drop-in centre a shelter.
Hilton says the Town “told us that we cannot have beds for our homeless to sleep during the day [after staying up all night to avoid freezing to death, robbed or beaten].”
“We are not a shelter,” she says. “We are a Community Outreach Facility. Having beds to use during the daytime does not turn us into a shelter. If a church had a mat program they wouldn’t have to apply for a zoning change since, in the words of Town staff, ‘that wouldn’t be the primary use of the facility [re: church]. We will be offering much more than just a place to sleep.”
At the Oct. 17 open house, town planner Alisha Mody said zoning was not the main issue, because zoning only allows for a permit application. Zoning could be in place but a permit could still be denied on the basis of not having “enough structure supporting that permit where we would feel comfortable giving it a yes.”
Under the conditions of the current temporary permit, the foundation has to submit a Procedural Manual within 30 days of opening or no later than Dec. 15.
“We are both happy and relieved to finally be opening our doors in order to offer some help to our vulnerable citizens,” Hilton says.
The temporary permit expires May 30, 2020. The permit can be appealed until Nov. 19.
Any community members with questions can contact development officer Susan Martineau firstname.lastname@example.org.