The Town of Ladysmith authorized the signing of a temporary three-year permit for an extreme weather shelter at 631 First Avenue, but over objections that too many services for the homeless are being located in the downtown, and that the concentration is hurting businesses.
An extreme weather response shelter provides overnight spaces to the homeless “during situations where sleeping outside might threaten their health or safety,” says a report to council. Ladysmith’s will have 10 beds, available when conditions warrant between Nov. 1 and March 31.
Last year an extreme weather shelter was offered at various locations in Ladysmith on 78 nights, but a more typical pattern might be 20 nights during the five months when the service is offered, people who deal with the homeless estimate.
As well as a place for the homeless to rest and sleep during inclement weather – between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. – the shelter will provide a breakfast for clients. It will not be opened during the day, or on nights when weather conditions are not extreme.
But while councilors agreed there is a need, concerns were raised the Rialto apartments at the corner of First Avenue and Buller Street are not the right place.
Coun. Duck Paterson said shelter was provided last year without locating an extreme weather response centre (EWR) in the downtown, and he wondered why the service could not continue to be offered in other locations.
“I don’t believe we should be adding this kind of atmosphere to the downtown,” he said. “Where are they (the clients) going to go when it’s closed?”
He also wondered about locating an extreme weather shelter across the street from the Ladysmith Inn pub.
An area business owner agreed the concentration of social and homeless services in the downtown is too high. “There is no doubt in my mind that a shelter is needed,” he said.
“I think we need it. I think putting another potential problem in that area – it’s too much. You’re going to hurt the businesses.”
As well as having to clean up litter – including needles – in the alley behind his business, he said he has a hard time preventing his customers seeing street scenes and transactions that are upsetting. “My biggest concern? Is it the right place?”
Mayor Aaron Stone spoke in favour of the permit.
“These people exist in our community,” he said. “When you say ‘What are they going to be doing during the day,’ very much the same things they are doing today.”
Ladysmith is small enough that, even if you locate an EWR elsewhere in the community, the homeless people using it would gravitate to the downtown during the day. A central location is needed, he said, because homeless people had trouble finding out when the service was available last year and where it was being offered.
He noted as well that a temporary permit is being issued. “It doesn’t have to be renewed after three years if we find we’ve made a mistake,” Stone said.