The council chamber at Trail city hall was packed Monday night as residents voiced 2.5 hours of staunch opposition over a three-year temporary use permit application from BC Housing to allow the installation of a 25-bed homeless shelter near the old Trail bridge.
There were a handful of supporters who attended, and one person opposed via Zoom.
As well, council received 31 written submissions, with 20 letters in support of the permit, 11 opposed.
In the end, council voted unanimously to proceed with the temporary use permit — but only for one year — after Coun. Paul Butler brought forth an amendment to reduce the permit approval by two years.
Butler says he considered several factors before proposing a one year term.
“My decision to put forward a shortened timeline for the TUP (temporary use permit) approval at the Riverside Drive location took into account the very valuable feedback we received from local residents, who may be impacted by our decision and the obvious humanitarian need that was staring our community directly in the face,” Butler told the Trail Times.
“My council colleagues and I will be working diligently with BC Housing to ensure a rapid relocation process of the existing shelter, as well as moving forward with an aggressive search for a permanent site and solution to the housing crisis in Trail,” he added.
“Lastly, and I believe most importantly, we will continue to lobby both the province of B.C. and our federal government for new addiction treatment facilities to be built in the Kootenay region without delay.”
While council agreed to a one-year term, the Trail Times questioned if this is agreeable to BC Housing.
“We are happy that Trail city council understands the critical need for a new shelter and approved the Temporary Use Permit for the new shelter site on Riverside Avenue,” a BC Housing spokesperson replied early Wednesday.
Recognizing that homelessness is an ongoing issue, BC Housing said it was hopeful that the shelter site would be approved for the originally proposed three-year term.
“However, we are pleased to have a site to move forward with, (and) to construct a new, 25-bed shelter that we hope to operate for up to four years.”
BC Housing’s goal continues to be safe, affordable, and quality housing, the organization continued.
“The development of this new shelter site will reduce the impact of homelessness in Trail, but we recognize shelters alone are not a solution to homelessness.
“People need access to affordable housing with the support services they require for a healthy life. This project is part of a $19-billion housing investment by the B.C. government,” they added.
“Since 2017, the province has more than 76,000 homes that have been delivered or are underway, including over 700 homes in the Kootenay region.”
Besides unanimously passing the one-year temporary use permit for 2039 Riverside Avenue, comprised of property owned by both the city and Crown, council unanimously agreed to enter into an agreement with BC Housing for “a nominal annual lease rate.”
Additionally, they all agreed to write a letter to the housing minister requesting the province exercise statutory immunity to allow operations to continue at the Bay Avenue shelter locale until such time the new site is ready for use. Of note, BC Housing said there are 45 active homelessness cases in Trail, but only an 18-bed capacity at the current location.
“Council’s intent was that we want to continue the pressure to find and build supportive housing,” Mayor Colleen Jones said. “Council is also very committed to working with BC Housing and the community in that area on the safety issues that were presented by concerned citizens at (the Monday night) meeting.”
According to BC Housing’s development plan, the new year-round shelter will house up to 25 beds, and amenities will include: daily meals; case management and health care referrals; laundry and shower facilities; fully fenced perimeter with privacy screening and gated access; security lighting and cameras; indoor common area and outdoor space; storage for belongings; and on-site 24/7 staff support, including property maintenance.
During the public hearing, there was an audible gasp from the gallery when BC Housing representative, Cheryl Roepcke, confirmed the facility will have a medical room, for use by professionals and for use as an injection site by shelter patrons.
“We are meeting people where they are at,” she explained, mentioning trained staff will be on site 24/7. She also confirmed BC Housing has issued a RFP (request for proposal) for service providers interested in operating the shelter, and that will close in early September.
BC Housing says pre-built modular units are being used so the shelter can be constructed “quickly and efficiently.” Furthermore, as the plan is meant to be a “stepping stone” to more permanent housing solutions, the units can be removed sometime down the road, and reused at another site.
The timeline for when the Riverside shelter will be operational is the end of this year or early in 2024.
To read more about the shelter, there’s a detailed online resource at: LetsTalkHousingbc.ca.
Click on the “projects” banner at the top of the page and the Trail Riverside Avenue Shelter document will come up.
Before voting in favour of the shelter permit, several council members shared their reasoning on this obviously difficult decision. To hear those views and insight from those who spoke to council, visit the city’s YouTube page @CityofTrailLocalGovernment.