City agrees to let Calgary Drop-In Centre shelter remain until 2050

The Calgary Drop In and Rehab centre pictured March 5, 2018. Dealing with mental health and addictions issues have become more of a focus as the Drop-In Centre tries to help those dealing with homelessness. (Colin Hall/CBC  - image credit)
The Calgary Drop In and Rehab centre pictured March 5, 2018. Dealing with mental health and addictions issues have become more of a focus as the Drop-In Centre tries to help those dealing with homelessness. (Colin Hall/CBC - image credit)

The Calgary Drop-In Centre will be keeping its main downtown shelter in place until at least 2050 following a decision by city council.

The organization signed a 25-year lease agreement with the city back in 2000 and the six storey shelter opened the following year.

That lease included an option for a 25-year extension of the term.

During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government offered a grant to upgrade the ventilation system in the building to help limit the spread of the virus.

But the Drop-In Centre's executive director, Sandra Clarkson, said the $500,000 grant required the building to remain in use for at least five more years.

That would have been beyond its current lease term. So she said the organization asked city council to approve the lease extension.

Behind closed doors

The request was approved by council in a closed session in 2021. Details of the extension weren't released publicly until a few months ago.

"They worked very closely with us in order to ensure we could take advantage of that funding opportunity," said Clarkson.

She said the DI had to match the government grant, which it did. The upgrading of its HVAC system was completed by early 2022.

While the organization now knows it can keep the shelter at the current site for decades to come, Clarkson said the range of services being offered will likely shift over time.

She pointed out that their work has changed considerably since 2017. She said 80 per cent of the people experiencing chronic homelessness have been moved out of the shelter and into their own homes since that time.

Goals changed

Dealing with mental health and addictions issues have also become more of a focus as the Drop-In Centre tries to help those dealing with homelessness.

"A shelter is not a home. We have shifted the way we do our work considerably. We're offering more enhanced health services within the building knowing that health, housing and homelessness are interconnected."

As she looks ahead to 2050, Clarkson said she expects there will always be a need for emergency shelter space on a short term basis.

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong, who represents the downtown area, wasn't part of the council that made the decision to approve the lease extension option for the DI.

But he said it made sense.

"It would be a significant undertaking on their part together with the province to find funding to do anything different than what they have now," said Wong.

Although there are no other options in the lease agreement with the city for further extensions, Clarkson said reaching a new deal on the city-owned land is theoretically possible.

She said that the current building would be 50 years old by then so it's hard to predict what will unfold more than two decades from now.