Sechelt council has denied a request by BC Housing to lease a property at the corner of Ebbtide Street and Trail Avenue for use as a temporary homeless shelter, but they have given first reading to a bylaw that will allow a shelter to open at 5653 Wharf Avenue (the Upper Deck Hostel).
The zoning amendment will go to a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 19, (7pm, district hall) and the next day council will consider second and third readings and adoption, which would allow the temporary homeless shelter to open in time for Christmas. (The delay between first and second readings of the bylaw is necessary to give the minimum required notice for the public hearing.)
The decision to deny the Ebbtide Street site was made by Council in a closed meeting on Nov. 15 and released to the public in their Dec. 6 council agenda package.
BC Housing held a public information meeting on the Upper Deck proposal on Dec. 4 at the Sechelt Legion. In marked contrast to the public meetings about the Ebbtide location, the majority of people who spoke at this meeting favoured the proposal.
In fact, several speakers urged Sechelt council to move faster to open the shelter. An online petition started by Eleonora Molnar collected over 2,500 signatures requesting that council to “declare a state of emergency on homelessness or issue a temporary use permit and open the Upper Deck shelter location immediately.”
However, at its regular meeting on Dec. 6, council defended their decision to follow the proper bylaw process.
Councillor Noel Muller said: “Of course we’ve heard from the community in terms of the need. We know that the need is there. This allows us to do it in a way that works with our procedures.”
“We can’t in fact move any quicker, and I think the community needs to know that,” said Councillor Darren Inkster.
In response to a question from Councillor Alice Lutes, Corporate Officer Joanne Frank noted that if for some reason adoption of the bylaw had to be deferred on Dec. 20, council could still allow the shelter to open because “council is not legally bound to enforce its bylaws, especially if there’s a policy decision not to do so.”
In a comment posted to the petition webpage on Dec. 6, Eleonora Molnar thanked community members for their support of the Upper Deck shelter location, but added: “It’s a terrible shame that the homeless have to wait 15 more days for zoning amendments so that they can sleep in a bed. I wish the new shelter could be open right now.”
The District of Sechelt staff report on the bylaw noted that the Upper Deck’s second floor location is not wheelchair accessible and recommended that BC Housing be given two years to put in an elevator and an accessible washroom. At the end of two years, BCH could apply for building permit extensions if they have not completed the work. Their lease with the Upper Deck is for 29 months.
Councillor Darnelda Siegers thanked Tanya Hall (owner of the Upper Deck Hostel) for offering her property.