Coun. Mitchell Tweel says he wants the province to hold a public meeting at the current location of its community outreach centre in Charlottetown before proceeding any further with a potential plan to move the centre to the former Charlottetown Curling Club — in Tweel's ward.
"There was challenges in the current location," he said. "Now they want to relocate it to this location. And I don't think that's fair for this community. I really don't."
While Tweel cited concerns about the centre's operations, when asked he did not specify the nature of those concerns, saying it's up to the province to provide details.
"There's a number of issues. For example, what is the structure … in terms of discipline? How is that fitted into the community in terms of, you know were the police involved? Were EMS involved?"
The community outreach centre is meant to provide various services under one roof, including employment, financial assistance counselling, and food and housing for Islanders struggling with homelessness, poverty or mental health issues.
The centre was developed in partnership with community groups including the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Salvation Army and the Native Council of P.E.I. Those groups continue to provide oversight.
The outreach centre first opened in January 2020 at a location on Euston Street, also in Tweel's ward, before it moved to its current location at 35 Weymouth St., as part of Smith Lodge, which the province has been developing as a transitional housing complex.
'Beginning stages' of planning, says minister
Last week, Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers said the province has secured the lease of the former Charlottetown Curling Club as of May 3, and is in the "beginning stages" of developing a plan for the property.
Trivers said the province has looked at several potential new locations for the outreach centre — which was only meant to be located at Smith Lodge temporarily — and said the former curling club offers "a really prime location with a lot of nice features."
Trivers said the centre needs to be moved to allow more capacity at Smith Lodge, which is meant to house up to 20 transitional beds but can currently only accommodate nine.
He said the province is also considering low-income housing for the curling club property.
Lots of positive feedback from clients, group says
Danya O'Malley is executive director of P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, one of the groups involved in setting up the outreach centre.
She said she's not aware of specific issues around the current location, but said she's heard lots of "positive feedback from the individuals that are making use of the services there."
She said she thinks people can sometimes "find the homeless population intimidating," but that "people having a place to go is ultimately better than them being on the streets."
"And so if people are intimidated by somebody who is on the streets, then giving that person somewhere to go, somewhere they can eat, somewhere they can shower, that's our civic responsibility. And I think it's just human decency that we want people to be taken care of."
'Very clear feedback' from councillor
Trivers said he met with Tweel and received "some very clear feedback" with regards to the councillor's concerns.
He said he thinks the concerns go beyond a "not in my backyard" mentality.
"They're valid concerns and things we have to take into account," Trivers said, noting that there are two schools in the area of the former curling club.
"We need to look at how we would solve those issues."
Sonya Cobb, the province's director of housing, said while plans for the move are not solidified, "the discussions are ongoing. A possible move to the Charlottetown Curling Club will allow for additional space for clients and staff leading to enhanced services."
She said "the positive impact the community outreach centre has had on the lives of some of the clients goes beyond measure."
Biggest concern 'need for increased size'
The councillor for Ward 1, where the outreach centre is currently located, said the number one concern she hears is around "the need for increased size and accessibility."
"Moving the centre into a larger venue with ample parking would address this concern," said Alanna Jankov.
She said the outreach centre "provides essential services to Islanders and residents."
While calling for the province to hold a public meeting with residents in a five-block radius of the site's current location, Tweel said the city could require a public meeting of its own to hear from his constituents as part of the planning process before allowing the centre to move to the curling club.
"We've worked hard here the last number of years to revitalize this community," said Tweel. "The last thing we want to do is to be taking five steps backwards when we're trying to take five steps forward."
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