A new temporary homeless shelter is set to open in south Edmonton next week, and it’s being met with mixed feelings by local residents and the area councillor.
On Nov. 2, The Mustard Seed will open the 24/7 shelter in a warehouse owned by Cessco Fabrication and Engineering Ltd., located on 75 Avenue near 99 Street in the Ritchie neighbourhood.
The space is being set up to accommodate about 120 people and will provide them with food, showers, washrooms and day programming, as well as services such as housing supports and employment coaches.
“This is a response to winter,” The Mustard Seed executive director Dean Kurpjuweit said. “We need to respond to that and we need to make sure our most vulnerable have someplace to go.
“We’re experiencing an increase in homelessness throughout the city, including here on the south side.”
However, some who live in the area have expressed concern that they were not consulted about the shelter or its location.
“We have mixed feelings about it at this point,” said Allan Bolstad, former city councillor and civics director with the Ritchie Community League.
“We want to certainly hear everybody out and see what it’s all about, but so far the process has certainly left something to be desired. We have yet to be notified that this is happening from the city or anybody in an official capacity.
“We recognize they’re in a tough spot. We’re in a pandemic, they’re short on space and all that kind of thing. The community is very sympathetic to that, but as you see it’s a pretty rough spot to try to house people for any length of time.
“There’s no services nearby, they’re going to have to walk for blocks and blocks to find a grocery store around here and other services.”
Ward 11 Councillor Mike Nickel said he too was not consulted about the shelter, nor was his office. He also raised concerns about the process.
“It’s not that Ritchie wouldn’t mind the shelter. In fact, Ritchie is one of those communities that does its part more so than some others, I would argue. But they just find this not just odd, but just concerning that they weren’t consulted, nor my office,” he said.
“If you’re going to build consensus and community support for these initiatives, you’ve got to follow the process.
“At the end of the day, they’ve issued a special events permit and put a shelter in an industrial zone.”
Nickel acknowledged the city is in a “crisis” amid the pandemic, “but you can’t use this crisis to just override a fair and open process to solve a problem.”
“Is putting people in an industrial building the best-suited site? There’s all these questions and if they would have just consulted us a little earlier, perhaps we could have avoided this problem altogether.”
The facility is located in an area not officially zoned for such a service, but the city said a development permit was issued for the temporary use — a power that is at the discretion of staff.
“Administration reviewed their permit application and identified that although it’s not typical to provide overnight shelter in an industrial zone, in this case it’s a unique situation because the zone is close to existing residential, it’s in a big empty space, the perimeter of the site is very secure,” said Christel Kjenner, director affordable housing and homelessness with the City of Edmonton.
Kjenner noted community engagement is not typically part of the development permit approval process, but said notifications are sent out when permits are issued.
“Although I think administration appreciates that it’s not the ideal solution for the long-term, they felt satisfied that this was an appropriate location to provide the service in the short-term in the context of the public health emergency that we’re in,” she said.
Kurpjuweit said The Mustard Seed also knocked on doors in the neighbourhood, to let people know they were coming and why they were coming.
“We’re not new to this, we’ve been doing this for years. We understand that sometimes there are some things that come that we don’t like but our argument would be those things are already here and by providing 24/7 care we should actually reduce some of the social disorder people are seeing, rather than it being increased.”
He also stressed that the location is not a permanent solution.
“We believe that the south side of Edmonton requires more supports for the homeless population. There’s a large homeless population south of the river and until we have the facilities and supports in place, that population will only increase,” he said.
“It’s a one-off. When winter is over, we’re out of here. We recognize that we need to do this and we’re very grateful that we had some people in city administration to help us with that process in order for us to move in here.”
Bolstad said a community engagement session is planned next month and will include representatives from The Mustard Seed and the city.
“I think the community is very sympathetic of the need for it. It’s just that wow, look at this spot that they picked.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to live here very long. I don’t think very many people would.”
The city estimates about 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Edmonton, with 600 sleeping outside or unsheltered on any given night.
The shelter will be open until March 31, 2021.