Could a centralized downtown homeless shelter jeopardize the vision of a bright and vibrant downtown Quesnel? Gilbert Schotel fears so.
The president of the Quesnel Downtown Association says they have a number of concerns with BC Housing’s application to rezone the current site of the Ramada Inn at 383 St. Laurent Avenue.
“We have concerns over the location, the scope of what they’re proposing, the lack of planning, the poor record of the current shelter, and how it fits in with the city’s official community plan and the downtown association’s vision with downtown Quesnel.”
If approved, the proposed purchase by BC Housing of the Ramada Inn would provide up to 45 permanent homes with support for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness in the community. There would also be up to 15 shelter spaces and 10 Extreme Weather Response spaces, which BC Housing said will fluctuate in response to weather and community need.
Existing programs and services at the current homeless shelter, Seasons House at 146 Carson Avenue, would be relocated with the Quesnel Shelter and Support Society remaining the operator. Residents currently sheltering at the Grace Inn would also be provided housing at the new site.
Schotel is worried about the close proximity to the Quesnel and District Child Development Centre, the Youth Lounge, the Quesnel Public Library and the affordable housing building, Kikihnaw, owned and operated by the Dakelh and Quesnel Community Housing Society.
“It’s bringing a large, at-risk, vulnerable population right in the middle of other conflicting vulnerable populations,” he said.
Schotel is also worried about what the new site could mean for crime rates.
An already large amount of troublesome behavior ranging from open drug use, public intoxication, prostitution, public defecation, arson, aggressive panhandling and intimidation has been witnessed.
Schotel added that businesses have also experienced shoplifting, break and enters, vandalism and littering.
“We’ve got issues where we know there’s the harboring of stolen property,” he said. “This is what we see with the current shelter, so we’re really hesitant to be able to support anything that’s going to be larger.”
Next door to the Ramada Inn, managing broker and owner of Quesnel Realty (RE/MAX) Bobbi Momer is worried for the safety of her staff.
She has seen some of that behaviour directly from her office window and has resorted to locking their door so their receptionist, Justine Pelletier, is not by themselves when the realtors are out.
“The shelter component is alarming,” Momer said. “We understand that there needs to be some permanent housing for this, but it hasn’t worked at Seasons House, and they’re going to triple the capacity where there are concerns.”
Pelletier, who has been working at Quesnel Realty since June and will soon be writing her realtor exam, says it has been eye-opening how many issues there are and that they do call the police a lot.
“Just the idea of it getting a bit worse is very concerning, and my parents live downtown, so I worry for them as well as they walk everywhere, and now they feel unsafe,” she said.
If rezoning to allow the use of supportive housing and emergency shelter at 383 St. Laurent Avenue is approved by Quesnel city council, the building could be occupied by Spring 2023 following renovations which BC Housing noted is too early to know the exact cost or scope of, including what will happen to the pool currently on-site.
“Supportive housing is an opportunity for people to leave the streets and shelter system for safe and stable housing that will contribute to an improved quality of life,” BC Housing said in an emailed statement.
Residents would have a self-contained studio home with meal or food programs, and other supports provided on-site to ensure they can achieve and maintain housing stability. All supportive housing residents sign a program agreement and pay $375 monthly rent, which is covered by monthly welfare payments.
“There is no specific length of time a resident can stay in supportive housing,” BC Housing said. “These homes are available as long as the resident needs, or until they feel ready to move on to independent housing. We work to support individuals who are ready to move on from supportive housing by helping them sign up for BC Housing’s Registry for rental supplements or placement in affordable homes.”
BC Housing added it understands that not all vulnerably housed people will want to move into housing and that BC Housing and outreach workers will work with people living in the current shelters to find a housing or shelter solution that works for the individual.
“Our priority is safety for people experiencing homelessness, people in the immediate neighborhoods, and the staff and volunteers who are providing the supports that are needed,” BC Housing continued.
“We also recognize more housing is needed in Quesnel, which is why we will continue to actively engage with the community, the city, and other key partners as we collaborate to provide safe, affordable homes for the community.”
Schotel said the City of Quesnel has worked very hard over the past several years toward improving and rebranding the community as a host venue as it moves forward from challenges facing the forest industry and economy.
He noted past improvements to Reid Street and the downtown, including the West Fraser Centre which opened in 2017.
“This is all setting us up to transition our economy and getting ready as things change — the community plan supports this,” Schotel said.
“With this proposal, not only does that jeopardize those plans in terms of how it’s going change the dynamics in the downtown, it removes about 45 or so hotel rooms from our downtown core which are vital when we’re hosting sporting events and conferences like Minerals North and the BC Winter Games.”
BC Housing will present a summary report of the community feedback received during the community engagement period (Aug. 15 — Aug. 29) on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at a regular council meeting.
A public hearing is scheduled to take place 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Quesnel City Hall.
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