City of Saskatoon considers outdoor gathering space for downtown wellness centre

·3 min read
Council will discuss a potential outside gathering space at the Saskatoon Tribal Council's emergency wellness centre at its next meeting on Monday.  (Trevor Bothorel/CBC - image credit)
Council will discuss a potential outside gathering space at the Saskatoon Tribal Council's emergency wellness centre at its next meeting on Monday. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC - image credit)

The City of Saskatoon is looking at options for giving people a place to congregate outside the Saskatoon Tribal Council's emergency wellness centre.

Businesses around the 75-bed homeless shelter on First Avenue N. have complained about people loitering outside the building, creating trash and potentially driving pedestrians away from the area.

"If there was a dedicated space provided with proper maintenance, I think it could be a benefit to the neighbouring properties," said Saskatoon Fire Dept. Chief Morgan Hackl. "It would be more co-ordinated and supported."

The tribal council has advocated for an outdoor space since the wellness centre opened in December. However, space has always been an issue.

If council is interested in setting up a space, city administration has identified three options:

  • Setting aside part of the nearby Midtown Plaza parking lot.

  • Setting up a space on parking lots in front of the wellness centre.

  • Setting up an offsite location that had not been determined.

The report noted that each option had pluses and minuses.

For example, the report said, the city had not yet discussed the proposed Midtown Plaza idea with owners. As well, people staying at the centre would have to cross a vehicle exit route to get to the parking lot.

However, the report says putting a space in front of the building using parking spaces has potential.

Administration said that homelessness groups in Vancouver have successfully used parking spaces as a place for people to gather. It said that the spaces are generally operated by the service providers and are all unique. It said operators of the space are responsible for cleaning, managing and operating the space.

"It all came about because of the pandemic," Hackl said. "They were able to provide some programmed activities in that space and it was a good co-ordinated approach to support the surrounding community."

Space could improve conditions

Brent Penner, executive director of the downtown business improvement district, says having an outdoor space could improve conditions in the area.

"The city requires daycares to have outdoor space," Penner said.

"Having outdoor space as a requirement provides dignity for people at the shelter, and also those who come to visit – rather than being all over the sidewalk … and in some cases causing issues for people just trying to walk by or access a business."

The report noted that the city already has a similar plan in place for parking patios for restaurants and bars, but would need to alter the policy to allow the wellness centre to employ a similar scheme.

The report noted that, under current parking patio rules, an outdoor space area that takes up five parking stalls is estimated to cost $2,200 a month.

For its part, the tribal council has defended its wellness centre from criticism, saying peacekeepers hired by the centre regularly patrol the area to maintain order.

Earlier this month, council voted to extend the wellness centre's lease to April 2023. The centre is currently in an unoccupied City of Saskatoon office building.

The tribal council is in the process of looking for an alternative site for the wellness centre.

Council will discuss the issue at its meeting on Monday.

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