Ritchie residents voice concerns about new homeless shelter in 99th Street warehouse

·4 min read

As residents living near a new 24/7 shelter in a south Edmonton warehouse complain of crime, noise and needles, the manager tasked with operating the facility apologized Tuesday for a lack of consultation with the neighbourhood.

At a virtual town hall organized by the Ritchie community league, Mustard Seed executive director Dean Kurpjuweit responded to concerns including community safety and petty crime.

One major concern was that the community wasn't adequately consulted before the shelter was opened this month.

'Just so frantic'

Kurpjuweit said the rush to get people off the streets before winter meant consultation came too late.

"Our communication with you should have occurred way sooner than it did," he said.

"We were just so frantic to get this open before winter, and sort of forgot something important in the midst of everything that was urgent."

The Mustard Seed opened the shelter Nov. 2 in a Cessco warehouse at 9935 75th Ave.

The space, which will operate until the end of March, can accommodate 120 homeless people day and night.

Kurpjuweit said the province asked the Mustard Seed in September if it was open to running a 24/7 all-service shelter.

The Cessco warehouse was the only available south-side location that was adequate in size and location, he said.

The lease and permit were confirmed in mid-October. The Mustard Seed runs the building, owned by Cessco Fabrication and Engineering Ltd., on a special-event permit.

Because the operation will be temporary, no formal engagement was required for city approval.

Last week, Mustard Seed teams knocked on doors and spoke to residents.

"We apologize that that was so late in the game," Kurpjuweit said.

I'm very concerned about my safety, and I don't know what to do. - Charity Sagert, Ritchie resident

Representatives from the Mustard Seed, the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Police Service joined Tuesday's online panel, which was attended by 130 residents.

Dr. Cecilia Wu's children attend the nearby J.H. Picard School.

"It was very disappointing for a school that is literally across the street not to be notified," said Wu, a medical examiner who works with police and RCMP.

Wu said she has noticed needles in playgrounds and worries needles will be found at the school.

"Crime has skyrocketed — as well as the overdoses — so it would be naive for anyone to think that things don't bleed over," Wu said.

Charity Sagert, who lives across the street from the warehouse, said she heard screaming on Saturday night. She said police arrived after she called 911.

"I feel like I'm going to get bombarded by this issue," Sagert told the panel. "I'm very concerned about my safety, and I don't know what to do."

The people that are being housed in the shelter have already been there — they're just now in Cessco. - Const. Corrine Kline

Kurpjuweit said there are cameras inside and outside the building and they'll consider extra security if necessary.

Edmonton police Const. Corrine Kline, who has worked in the area for several years, joined the panel to address concerns.

"This shelter is not going to bring more crime into the area," Kline said. "The people that are being housed in the shelter have already been there — they're just now in Cessco."

Anyone observing a crime in progress should call 911, Kline said. She said people can call 211 or the regular non-emergency police line for social concerns.

Benefits of 24/7

The previous Mustard Seed winter shelter at Trinity Lutheran Church asked clients to leave early in the morning and took them back in later at night.

Kurpjuweit said he believes the all-day shelter means a reduction in loitering and petty crime.

Kline said that when clients are made to leave in the morning, police find them camped out and in areas they shouldn't be.

"We find them in backyards, we find them trying to find shelter -- in doorways, breezeways, businesses, etc.," Kline said.

The Mustard Seed
The Mustard Seed

Christel Kjenner, the city's director of housing and homelessness, said 180 new people are falling into homelessness every month.

The city has found housing for 1,000 people since March but about 300 more people are experiencing homelessless now than during the same period last year, Kjenner said.

The city is being proactive to ensure activities stemming from shelter clients have minimal impact on the community, she said.

The city's neighbourhood empowerment team, made up of social workers and police officers, is circulating the neighbourhood more often, she said. Peace officers have been added to patrol the area.

Capital City Clean Up teams are being directed to pick up litter and debris, she added.

Housing mission

Kurpjuweit said the Mustard Seed's mission is to find permanent housing for clients by having them work with housing outreach workers.

"This is a housing-focused place," Kurpjuweit said. "Our goal is to ensure that anyone who arrives at our doors gets the supports that they need so that they can live independently and on their own."

The agency said residents with concerns about behaviour in the neighbourhood can call the shelter any time of day.