The John Howard Society in Cold Lake has shut its doors.
The Municipal Planning Commission’s decision to approve a development permit from JHS to continue operating their Community Mat Program and other services at their current location for six months was appealed by members of the neighbouring business community.
Since their permit ran out May 1, this means the John Howard Society must leave their downtown location at 4801 51 Street and wait for the appeal hearing scheduled in the coming weeks.
The JHS acts as a shelter for approximately 10-12 homeless people and provides meals and other services to dozens of others. They shut their doors on Friday and laid off all but one of their 11 staff members.
At the April 13 MPC meeting, the permit was approved to try to find a different location but was met with opposition by surrounding business owners.
“That decision has now been appealed, which is a right of everybody on a decision of the planning commission,” said Mayor Craig Copeland on The Morning After. “Now, John Howard has to cease existing from their present location. And so there’ll be no more overnight stays at the site…the STB will hear the case, and they’ll decide. Either John Howard will open up again, or they won’t look at that location.
“The people behind the John Howard are really a passionate group. They want to help the people who do not have a home and the downtrodden or who need to be helpful. They feed them three times a day. So they provide an amazing service to our community, and we’ll see where it goes,” said Copeland.
The society has been operating in its current location for the past two years, said John Howard Society board president Candice Sutterfield. Since their lease with Northern Lights School ended June 1st and without having a permit, Sutherland said it didn’t make sense to continue at their current space.
She said this move is a blow to the community’s most vulnerable people, as all of their programs are now on pause until further notice.
“Our mandate wasn’t to cause the business community a headache. That wasn’t our intent at all. We intend to provide that to security, that outreach portion of this program, And individuals we work with, yes, they are tough individuals who suffer from mental health and addiction. And the majority of the population wants to turn a blind eye,” said Sutterfield.
“It’s a blow to our homeless population. Keep them in the dark corner, so nobody sees them – out of sight and mind. And if you look at other shelters throughout Canada, they’re always in a downtown setting. This isn’t new. This isn’t a new concept.”
The majority of the business community’s concerns in April had to do with the safety of their staff and the vagrancy related to having the shelter close to these businesses.
Sutterfield said the location issue continues regardless of where they go in Cold Lake because there is a feeling that no one wants this program in their backyard. But the JHS is looking for a new build for affordable rent.
“We’ve seen there’s a gap in service. There’s a huge gap in service in our community that doesn’t serve us to men. I’ve been working with women and addictions for 15 years now; I can get a woman’s services in a blink of an eye. But there was always that gap in service with men,” said Sutterfield.
“I’ve had a realtor I’ve been working closely with for quite a few months. But you’re always facing that NIMBY – that’s not in my backyard – wherever we go. There’s that real struggle we’re already facing. And because the decision was made so quickly, our outreach workers have already tried to house our individuals. Still, because some of them are not houseable – I think that’s important to acknowledge as well – because their mental health and their addictions are already so far gone. We can get some houses today, but they’re evicted tomorrow.”
Sutherland said their group would advocate why they feel these programs are important to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board meeting and await a decision.