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Friday , 20 May 2022

City approves keeping homeless shelter at downtown location

A homeless shelter in Cold Lake will remain at its current location city council decided, despite pushback from surrounding businesses.

On April 13, the Cold Lake John Howard Society presented a re-application to the MPC for a development permit to continue to operate their Community Mat Program at the current location of 4801 51 Street.

Approximately ten men were permitted to use the shelter as overnight accommodation. Since the development has taken place, they have extended occupants to women. They serve three meals per day, roughly to 34 people, and aim to secure support and counselling services to help their clients address the underlying causes of homelessness. The John Howard Society provides an invaluable service to vulnerable residents of Cold Lake who have no home.

“The Municipal Planning commission voted to continue the operation of the John Howard Society at its current location for six months,” Mayor Craig Copeland told Lakeland Connect. “The society does tremendous work for our community and the clients that need a helping hand. The issue is the location impacting the core business community, and a new location is a preferred option.”

During the meeting, local business owners expressed their concerns about the shelter is creating. Surrounding properties in the vicinity of the shelter include Cold Lake Chrysler dealership, Best Western Hotel, Kokum’s Corner, and a variety of small businesses and office buildings.

Frustrated staff and scared business owners

The business owner of the Best Western in Cold Lake expressed their primary concerns regarding the safety of the neighbourhood, their staff, and business with the operations of the shelter program.

They indicated that because the shelter locks its doors at a particular time, the Best Western building becomes considerably affected because the homeless often will vandalize the building, loiter in the lobby, and have begun uttering threats of violence towards the staff at the hotel. While this business owner agreed with the MPC that these homeless prevention services are required in Cold Lake, they do not believe the operation should continue at the current location in Cold Lake’s downtown district.

The MPC also received concerns from the Executive Director of the Cold Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, indicating they had various statistics of crime and vandalism in the community from the pilot security program.

Had enough

Downtown business owners and the staff that work at these establishments in the City of Cold Lake say they have had enough of the “problems” the shelter users are causing in the downtown district.

“As a long-time employee of Fabutan located at the corner of 50th Ave and 50th Street in downtown Cold Lake, I’d like to share some thoughts on the men’s shelter and vagrancy we experience here,” Daylyn Timmermans, General Manager of Fabutan, said. “Our team is made up of mostly women, ranging from ages 18-30 years old, and we have faced many struggles with unwelcome individuals in our business.”

Timmermans wrote in a letter to the MPC that on several occasions, they have had someone come in from the shelter and lay themselves down on one of the benches in the business and refuse to leave.

“This occurs any time of day, and our team feels very unsafe waiting for the RCMP; we’ve had our own patrons stay with staff due to the swearing and belligerency of these individuals,” Timmermans said. “If we’re quick enough, sometimes we can run and lock the door to keep them out, but sometimes it’s too late.”

Timmermans told the MPC they had to remove the large flower pots outside because men urinated in them while exposing themselves in the middle of the day.

“In the middle of summer, about 3:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, a staff member went out to water the flowers and found a man completely exposed urinating on the flowers,” Timmermans said. “Our team no longer takes the trash out at night, and I often ask my team to park as close to the doors as possible for their safety — taking away from customer parking, I might add. This has only gotten worse over the years, and as the weather warms up, we see more and more hanging out in groups yelling at people walking by.”

However, Timmermans’ business is not the only business affected by shelter users.

Alleged drug use in broad daylight in front of customers

The staff from Cold Lake Chrysler understands that this type of support facility is needed but expressed their concerns to the MPC that it needs to be relocated to some location that is away from Main Street and away from busy, downtown retail businesses.

“Having families in our showroom being forced to watch people stick needles into their toes, someone trying to pop our staff tires, people fighting and passed out regularly, consistent theft from in and around our building, and other unruly behavior right next door isn’t conducive to running a family-owned business that strives to provide a respectful buying and service experience,” Cory Welsh from Cold Lake Chrysler said.

“Three weeks ago, we had two patrons of the society that were high enter our west doors and started a fistfight in the middle of our showroom.”

Welsh told the MPC in a letter, “This facility has become a major strain right along the busiest road that we have in our city and a complete nuisance and safety concern for the businesses that are trying to operate within a close proximity.”

“I hope through some productive conversation the planning committee will realize that we need to find a new home for this facility in the immediate future,” Welsh said.

Store tenants close up shop.

Muse.inspired recently decided to close up shop and leave the downtown business sector.

“There have been a lot of reasons why I have decided to close my retail storefront boutique and move my business online,” Candace Adamson from Muse.inspired said. “One of my reasons was that the vagrancy has been ridiculous in the last year. I fear for my staff that works alone most times.”

Building owner, Ben Fadeyiw, told the MPC that he had seen a drastic increase in vagrants in the last four years.

“This is causing disruptions in businesses in our downtown core,” Fadeyiw wrote in a letter. “My tenant has given her notice and had indicated vagrancy as one of her major motivators.”

Fadeyiw said the last year had been more than a nuisance problem.

“This has now escalated to serious safety concerns for the public using services downtown and for the staff working at these retail premises,” Fadeyiw explained. “On a weekly or even biweekly, we have occurrences. What I mean by occurrences is people coming into the stores intoxicated, soiled, strung out or fighting in front stores or in alleys.”

Fadeyiw said people from the shelter come into the stores to ask to use the phone to harass employees verbally.

“One occasion physically grabbing and trying to kiss a female employee,” Fadeyiw said. “We have now come to the point where we see a non-typical consumer we lock the doors.”

Fadeyiw told the MPC his company vehicles have been vandalized and broken into numerous occasions. He is sick of having to paint over graffiti on the outside of his building and feels that the program at the John Howard Society and its guidelines should not be creating these issues.

Permit Approved

During the meeting, other business owners spoke up and said they all are dealing with the same problems.

Despite these concerns, Administration recommended the MPC approve the development permit for the shelter to operate for another six months.

“You know, one of our options was to deny the application and then what happens to the John Howard Society?” Mayor Copeland said. “I don’t think people on council wanted to do that. And so we want to try to work with John Howard, and they do amazing work. Not everybody is fortunate to have a roof over their head and a good-paying job and food.”

The MPC voted unanimously in favour as the application conforms to the C1 Downtown Commercial District requirements.

About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is an award winning journalist and is from Whitbourne Newfoundland. Green graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, River Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner and can fillet a Codfish.