MPC denies 24/7 homeless shelter

Coalition plans appeal

Pearl Lorentzen

Lakeside Leader

Plans for a temporary homeless shelter in Slave Lake this winter have been delayed by a technicality. However, an appeal is in the works.

On August 28, the only item on the Town of Slave Lake’s Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) was the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition Society’s application to put up a skid shack in northwest Slave Lake near the fire hall to house the homeless in the winter. This is the same location as used the year before.

“It’s the spot council wants it at,” says Town of Slave Lake Councillor Shawn Gramlich. However, he and the rest of the MPC voted against the application because of the definition.

The Town of Slave Lake Land Use Bylaw says, “‘Shelter’ means development providing emergency overnight accommodation that may include kitchen and dining facilities, showers and bathrooms, relaxation areas and laundry facilities. Accommodation for resident staff may be incorporated as an accessory use. ‘Group Home’ and ‘Boarding House’ are different uses.”

The key discussion point at the meeting was “emergency overnight accommodations.”

However, the Homeless Coalition’s application was to run a shelter 24 hours a day seven days a week with wrap-around services.

“The usage doesn’t meet the definition,” says Mayor Frankie Ward.

“It didn’t meet the criteria,” says Gramlich.

Councillor Kim Hughes on the MPC agrees.

“It sounds like a technicality,” she says, but she’s learned being on the MPC that “you have to work within those.”

“MPC, you can only make decisions based on planning principles,” says Mayor Ward. “For transparency, that’s how that works.”

“We will appeal that,” says Stacey Carmichael, executive director of the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition Society.

The appeal goes to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB).

“They (the SDAB) have the power to look at other factors,” adds Mayor Ward.

“Day-time wrap-around services, that’s what we need,” says Carmichael. “We feel it’s really important to have 24/7. I think it would decrease the spill-out into the community. Make it a space where the folks want to be and they’re welcome.”

The only issue at MPC was the definition, not the programming or the set-up.

Both Gramlich and Hughes are in favour of a 24-hour shelter.

“It’s actually way better for everyone,” says Gramlich.

“It is such an essential service,” says Mayor Ward of the homeless shelter.

The Town of Slave Lake is allowing the Homeless Coalition to use the land for free, adds Gramlich. Last year, it rented the skid shacks, but this year the coalition could do that part on its own.

If the appeal is successful, and town council subsequently approves it, the homeless coalition will put one large trailer on the land which will include space for sleeping, relaxing, a kitchen, washrooms (including showers), and office space. Programs would be run in that space and other service providers would be welcome to come to provide services. The proposal is to have the building up from mid-October to mid-May, with the homeless sleeping there from November 1 and April 30. The first two weeks would be staff training and the last two to take it down. Each shift will have two staff members at the shelter. There is also funding this year for administration.

“It will be self-contained,” says Carmichael.

One building is better than three, says Gramlich.

Generally, people and businesses have 21 days to appeal an MPC decision. Once the Town of Slave Lake receives the appeal, an SDAB meeting will be called within 28 days. Affected property owners will be notified of the appeal by writing and the wider public will be notified through the town’s social media and Voyent Alert.

Since 2014, local groups have applied yearly to the MPC for a winter emergency shelter to keep people out of the cold. Each year, there seems to be opposition.

Last year, the Town of Slave Lake rented skid shacks and let the Homeless Coalition use this land for free. The MPC approved the use of the land, but local businesses appealed the decision. When it came to the SDAB, Town of Slave Lake council had to step down as an interested party, so a representative from Big Lakes County sat on the appeal board. That shouldn’t be an issue this year, as the Town isn’t a partner.

In the past, the Town of Slave Lake have had to make zoning changes, when the proposed temporary location was not in the Institutional zone. This time is a bit different.

“The change needed to accommodate a 24/7 shelter would be a Land Use Bylaw amendment as our current bylaw does not have this use specifically clarified,” says Joanna Raymond, Slave Lake development officer. “The amendment would add the use as discretionary to Institutional zones, which is the current zone that the ‘shelter’ use is listed in as a discretionary use.”

Mayor Ward describes a bylaw amendment for this situation as “not impossible either, just needs a bit of time.”

Zoning-wise, the animal shelter and dog pound fall into institutional. However, in the LUB they fall under the ‘animal care, major.’

The Leader asked the town about the Northern Haven Support Society women’s shelter. Raymond could not find the original application as the town lost its files in the 2011 wildfire and this application was before then. However, it could be either a group home or supportive housing.

Raymond says, “Both group homes and supportive housing applications require support and approval from public licensing authorities verifying the number of staff required and clients the facility will be housing.”

Other news
Over the summer, the Homeless Coalition’s outreach worker has been working with close to 20 people sleeping rough in the area, says Carmichael. Some of them have health issues which makes it hard for them to reach the camp on the hill south of town. They are also being moved out of that area, because the province doesn’t want them there and the bears are becoming an issue. They will move back to camps nearer to town.

The Homeless Coalition is hiring a shelter manager and shelter staff. The plan is to do two weeks of intensive training before the shelter opens.

The fire hall location is proposed just for this winter.

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