Port Coquitlam homeless shelter gets green light

A temporary homeless shelter will operate out of Grace Church on Kingsway Avenue next winter - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
A temporary homeless shelter will operate out of Grace Church on Kingsway Avenue next winter
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

A temporary homeless shelter will operate out of Grace Church on Kingsway Avenue next winter after council voted in favour of moving ahead with the initiative despite opposition from area residents.

The majority of people who spoke at a public input session on Monday said they would be opposed to the shelter, which they believe will increase crime and reduce property values in the neighbourhood.

But council voted in favour of allowing the initiative to operate on a six-month trial basis. That means the Hope For Freedom Society, which will operate the shelter, will have to come back next year to receive another temporary use permit for the facility.

Coun. Michael Wright said forcing the society to come back to council will allow the city to gauge the impact on the neighbourhood before making a decision for the 2013-2014 winter shelter program.

He also added that many of the fears expressed by residents were overstated.

"I have seen many controversial public hearings," he said. "In many cases the fears that have been expressed never actually materialize. I am hoping this is one case where they do not materialize."

One of the fears is that property values will be negatively impacted by a shelter in the Kingsway nieghbourhood.

Keith Bell, a resident of the area who sent an email to council outlining his concerns, asked how the city and the church planned to compensate residents for their loss in home value.

"Anytime you have a negative strike against a property, it's a big reason for buyers to move on to a property with fewer negatives against it," he wrote. "By reducing the pool of potential buyers for your home to only buyers who are comfortable living near a shelter, the competition and demand for your home is reduced."

But Rob Thiessen, the director of Hope For Freedom, said numerous studies have been conducted across North America and have found that there is no link between shelters and home prices.

As for concerns over increased crime in the area resulting from the shelter, Thiessen points to the cold/wet weather mat program. Hope For Freedom has operated the shelter program since 2007 and said the RCMP has seen no increase in crime around shelter locations.

"I am not sure how people make the connection between homeless and sheltering people," he said. "If they are not in a shelter that means they are out banging around in the community unsupervised. If they are in a shelter they are being watched all night long."

The Grace Church shelter will bridge the gap between the closure of the cold/wet weather mat program, which ended last spring, and the opening of a permanent facility at 3030 Gordon Avenue in 2014. It is expected to operate during the winter months, between October and March, for the next two years.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who supported the shelter initiative, said many changes had been made to the proposal to accommodate residents. Originally, the shelter was going to be a year-round proposal. Now, he said, it will be done on a six-month trial basis.

Moore also believe the shelter will have a limited impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.

After the cold/wet weather mat program came to the Riverside Church, Moore said he knocked on several doors in the neighbourhood to see how residents felt about the shelter.

"Almost every house told us they didn't even know it was there," he said. "That goes to show the lack of impact it had on the neighbourhood."

But not all councillors were in support of the shelter initiative at Grace Church, with Coun. Glenn Pollock and Coun. Dean Washington voting against the plan.

Pollock, who volunteered for the cold/wet weather mat program, which rotated between various churches, said he was concerned with the impact keeping the shelter in one location would have on the neighbourhood.

"These residents are going to feel the brunt of it," he said. "The [cold/wet weather mat program] moved around. People were bused in. This is going to be at one location. "

Pollock also noted that all of the people who supported the shelter at Monday's public hearing lived outside of the neighbourhood.

"I am hoping I am wrong about this," he said. "If everyone gets to tell me 'I told you so', that will be great."



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