Wetaskiwin council rescinds permit for emergency shelter

In an unexpected decision, Wetaskiwin City Council has rescinded a development permit for an emergency shelter run by Hope Mission.

Four of six councilors voted in favour of a motion brought forward by councillor Wayne Neilson to cancel the shelter's development permit at a regular meeting on Monday, May 13.

Before a vote on the motion, councillors presented the pros and cons of the shelter.

Councillor Gabrielle Blatz, a shelter supporter, said at the meeting that the facility keeps the clients safe.

“If there is no shelter in place, that means that these people have nowhere else to go,” Blatz stated.

“During the winter, we have to start scrambling for an emergency shelter yet again,” she added.

In response, Councilor Bill Elliot said that with shelters being closed in other regions like Ponoka, or Leduc, the city is becoming a hub for these unhoused people.

Elliot said that some homeless people as far as Manitoba and Saskatchewan are heading toward Wetaskiwin, as they consider the city a ‘place to party’.

“I just see the fact now that we’re becoming a hub. Yes, it's been a second hand, but we’ve heard from different sources that there are people from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, coming to Wetaskiwin now,” Elliot stated.

“And one person was asked why you’re in Wetaskiwin, and he responded 'cause it’s the place to party'. So, I’m having a challenge with this, and I am torn. If we’re becoming the hub, we’re too small to be able to do that,” he said.

Councilor Blatz then rejected Councilor Elliot’s comment about Wetaskiwin becoming a homeless hub, by saying that the shelter is capped at 50 beds.

She further insisted that closing the shelter down wouldn’t just ‘magically’ solve the issue.

“The other side of this, we are capped at the number of beds that are allowed by fire code in those buildings, so we’re not becoming the hub of anything if we’re capped at 45 or 50 beds.”

“The problem is that if we don’t have a shelter, it’s not that these people just magically go away, or they go back to whatever community they’re from, these people die. And that’s not something that I can stomach,” Blatz explained.

Before Monday's ruling, Hope Mission had shovels in the ground for phase 1 of the facility.

In a part of Monday’s motion, it reads that "As of April 30, 2024, Administration is aware that a building permit has been issued for the footing and foundations of Phase 1 of the facility, a building permit application has been received for Phase 1 of the structure, and site grading has begun.”

Previously, the non-profit said that the building would have a limit of 62 shelter beds.

It will cost around $6 million, to which the provincial government will contribute $3.25 million of the budget.

After rescinding the development permit, the city administration will likely now need to issue a stop work order for the project.

The administration will report back to the council on the next steps at its meeting on May 27.

Qiam Noori, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ponoka News