Harrison Hot Springs could be the home of the first extreme weather shelter between Mission and Hope.
According to community services coordinator Rhonda Schell and CAO Madeline McDonald, the village was approached by members of the Agassiz-Harrison Homelessness Working Group about the possibility of opening up an extreme weather shelter in the community.
Village staff have met with the working group, which is made up of members of the Agassiz-Harrison Ministerial and others, twice to talk about the shelter, and said they would be meeting a third time on Monday (Oct. 7).
So far, the idea is to have a 10-bed shelter located in a house next to Central Community Church’s Harrison campus. (The house and the church, which was formerly the Harrison Gospel Chapel, are currently owned by Central Community Church.)
In order for the extreme weather shelter to move forward, the working group would need to apply for a zoning amendment on the property, since currently shelters like this are not a permitted use in any zone. This application would cost $1,000 — money the working group said it doesn’t have.
Because of this, a motion was brought forward to council to have the village help pay for the application fee, as bylaw application fees cannot be waived.
“They had said they consider this (fee) a barrier to moving forward, and they’ve not yet submitted an application for this reason,” McDonald said.
Council voted to allow village staff to use $1,000 to help the working group pay for the application, likely coming from the Grants for Groups funding pool. However, that does not mean that all of council is supportive of having an extreme weather shelter in the community.
“I would not want to see it not go ahead because they didn’t have $1,000,” councillor Gerry Palmer said. “Having said that, if it went ahead I think it would require some restrictions so there was generally comfort in what we were doing.
“I would like to at least see it move forward somehow, so it can be determined whether it’s acceptable to that neighbourhood,” Palmer said. “It’s an important social issue, but again, saying I want to see us somehow find funds for it doesn’t mean I will necessarily support it going ahead.”
Extreme weather shelters are generally open only during severe weather events, such as periods of heavy rain, bitter cold and sometimes extreme heat. However, what exactly these shelters include vary between communities and shelter’s themselves. Some have full-time staff members, and offer laundry or showering facilities, while others are simply open as spaces to get out of the elements overnight.
Right now, it’s not clear what the Harrison shelter would encompass.
“There is no provision for this type of use within any of our zones, so if council had an application to consider for rezoning, that’s when you can look at the type of parameters that would be around that,” McDonald said, adding that she couldn’t speak to the group’s intentions for the project.
If a zoning amendment application comes forward, and council approves the use, it would give council the ability to put restrictions on how Harrison’s shelter would be able to operate.