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After much back and forth, Wetaskiwin rescinds permit for Hope Mission shelter

Click to play video: 'City of Wetaskiwin rescinds development permit for Hope Mission shelter'
City of Wetaskiwin rescinds development permit for Hope Mission shelter
The future of a shelter in Wetaskiwin is up in the air after city council rescinded the Hope Mission's development permit. As Jasmine King reports, the vote leaves many in the city wondering what's next – May 14, 2024

Despite having land secured and funding from the province, a permanent emergency homeless shelter in Wetaskiwin is once again up in the air.

On Monday night, Wetaskiwin city council voted 4-3 to rescind the development permit for the shelter, which was approved in May 2023.

“Honestly, I don’t know what it means,” Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam said on Tuesday. “Our administration is looking into it — what we can do legally once that development permit had been issued and the appeal time had passed.

The project has been contentious in the community, getting mixed reaction, and council was previously warned by administration that once the permit was approved, council couldn’t do much to backtrack and stop the project.

“The contract between Hope Mission and the province was between those two, it had nothing to do with the city,” Gandam explained. “The only thing the city had done was allowed them to use that road allowance (for the temporary shelter) and donated the land for where the permanent shelter was going to be.”

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Click to play video: 'Wetaskiwin encampment to get temporary warming shelters amid demands for permanent housing'
Wetaskiwin encampment to get temporary warming shelters amid demands for permanent housing

In April 2023, council approved a land donation to Hope Mission and received $3.2 million in funding from the province for a new permanent Hope Mission emergency shelter that would replace the current temporary one and offer other social services to help vulnerable people.

However, in December, a 120-day “pause” was put on the project. That pause expired on Monday and council voted to try and pull the permit.

“It’s divided our city for sure,” Gandam said. “We’ve had a social and homelessness problem in Wetaskiwin for decades. We’ve been working on that over the last five-plus years, trying to figure out ways to mitigate some of those social issues, and we’ll continue to do that. Just because we’ve stopped now doesn’t mean that there’s not still the social issues in Wetaskiwin with mental health, addictions and homelessness. We’ll continue to work on that and make sure people are looked after the best we can.”

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Click to play video: 'Decision on controversial Wetaskiwin homeless shelter delayed'
Decision on controversial Wetaskiwin homeless shelter delayed

The mayor said there was some vocal opposition to the shelter due to its location and size and that’s fine. He said everyone is entitled to express their thoughts on city projects and decisions.

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Resident Debby Hunker was shocked and relieved by council’s decision Monday.

“I really didn’t hold out an awful lot of hope that they were actually going to rescind it,” she said. “But honestly, with a lot of people right now, there is a feeling of a huge weight being lifted off. Businesses, I think, are breathing a little bit easier, hoping things will change.”

Hunker said she’s not sure what comes next, but is still hoping for a smaller shelter in another location or a facility to offer treatment instead.

“Things have changed so much. We’ve had such an influx of people and I know that there’s a need — I don’t know if there’s a need for a homeless shelter — I think there’s a need for treatment.

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“If someone had come in wanting to build a treatment facility, I honestly don’t think we would’ve had nearly as much pushback,” Hunker said.

Click to play video: 'No decision made over controversial Wetaskiwin emergency shelter'
No decision made over controversial Wetaskiwin emergency shelter

Hope Mission said work on the permanent shelter has been going on since March.

Community engagement lead Kelly Row said the group is used to the setbacks and debate but Monday came as a surprise.

“We were caught off guard by this, obviously,” he said. “We’re hoping to move forward with the project.”

With the temporary site and other outreach work, Hope Mission has been “on the ground” in Wetaskiwin for a year and a half now, Row said.

“We’re really fortunate that we’ve had lots of success with the clients and seen a lot of people moving forward, moving on and getting better things going in their life,” Row said. “Our focus is the people end, you know, the other end, the political end and everything, we can’t control any of that.”

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Click to play video: 'Decision coming on Wetaskiwin emergency shelter'
Decision coming on Wetaskiwin emergency shelter

Row said he too is unsure what rescinding the development permit means for Hope Mission.

“It’s hard on our staff, the people that are committed. We’ve got some staff that have been here right from the inception. We’ve got different staff that come down from the city. They’re invested in Wetaskiwin now.”

Row said at its peak, the temporary shelter helps about 50-60 people overnight.

“The people that we’re serving need that support and it’s good work we’re doing,” he said. “The longer we stay in the temporary, the longer it keeps us in limbo.”

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