Ladysmith town council carried third reading of a rezoning bylaw which would allow BC Housing to operate a 10-bed 24-hour shelter at 631 First Ave. BC Housing asked council to extend a temporary use permit in September to continue operating out of the Island Hotel, but is now hoping to move the shelter back to the Rialto building, where it was prior to the pandemic.
The property is owned by BC Housing and is zoned for medium-density residential. Council carried third reading of amendments at its Jan. 11 meeting, which will create site-specific regulations to allow emergency shelter for up to 10 people.
Prior to the reading, council held an online public hearing where it heard from neighbouring businesses who were concerned about drug use in the area, theft and littering.
“We care about the look of our building and we want to put our best foot forward and it’s really tough when you have people continually leaving garbage, debris and whatever all around,” said Rick Morencie, owner of Red’s Emporium.
Most who spoke at the hearing were in favour of the shelter but would like to see improvements, such as increased security or RCMP patrol.
Stefan Queitsch, who owns the Temperance Hotel, said he saw a “non-stop barrage of needles” when the shelter was previously at the Rialto location and experienced break-ins. He believes increased police presence in the area would help mitigate the problems.
Coun. Rob Johnson said he lives near the temporary shelter at the Island Hotel and he has never had problems with shelter residents.
“Prior to COVID this location was already used as a shelter so to put it back is a reasonable expectation,” said Coun. Tricia McKay. “I think moving it into a full-time shelter very possibly will have a positive impact on the way it interacts in the neighbourhood.”
Coun. Duck Paterson was concerned the provincial government has not done enough to help municipalities deal with homelessness. He suggested council send a letter to BC Housing and the RCMP to request increased security and patrol.
“I think I have heard these same complaints every time,” said Coun. Jeff Virtanen. “We need a place to house our homeless. This feels like the right spot. This has been the right spot. I think we can maybe do a better job as far as keeping the outside clean and stuff like that.”
Mayor Aaron Stone said it is BC Housing and the province’s responsibility to ensure proper operation of the facility. He voted in favour of the zoning amendment with reservations that the province manages the facility better than in the past.
“If the operation of a facility causes safety concerns to those in the neighbourhood, that is the responsibility of the service provider to mitigate that and deal with those issues,” Stone said.
Third reading was carried unanimously. It will come back to council before either being modified further or adopted.