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Homeless shelter funding request denied

The original proposal for a $16.6 million, three-storey homeless shelter in Cranbrook will be scaled back. - courtesy philip macdonald architect
The original proposal for a $16.6 million, three-storey homeless shelter in Cranbrook will be scaled back.
— image credit: courtesy philip macdonald architect

The proposal for a new Cranbrook homeless shelter will be scaled back after the B.C. government said there is no funding available at this time.

In a letter to Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Stetski on Nov. 27, Rich Coleman, Minister Responsible for Housing, wrote: "The Province does not currently have a funding program available to support the proposed shelter. We have an obligation to work within budgetary constraints and for this reason, unable to provide funding for the project at this time."

The Salvation Army and the Cranbrook and District Community Foundation submitted a proposal for a $16.6 million homeless shelter to B.C. Housing in fall 2011. The proposed facility would include 15 overnight beds for men and 15 for women; 16 second-floor units for stays up to two years; 16 third-floor units for stays longer than two years; and four family units with three bedrooms in each.

Besides housing, the facility will have a commercial kitchen and cafeteria, and space for amenities such as hair cuts, access to computers and counselling.

The shelter would be built on land donated by the Salvation Army in Slaterville. The City of Cranbrook is waiving development cost charges. The Regional District of East Kootenay has agreed to provide $250,000 to the cause. But it all hinges on B.C. government funding.

The news that funding is not forthcoming was not a surprise for the project's lead drivers, Captain Kirk Green of the Salvation Army, and Neil Cook, chair of the Community Foundation. Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett warned the pair that the Minister is concerned by the cost of the project.

Bennett suggested a meeting with B.C. Housing to scale down the project.

“It seems to be the minister’s main concern is the cost per square foot, so we are trying to reduce that cost per square foot of the building,” said Cook.

“We are looking at going back to the two-storey building we initially put forward.”

Doing that would take out the extended stay units and family units, but keep the overnight shelter beds, and units for stays of up to two years. The proposal may also be altered to remove the requirement that the facility be built to LEED Gold standards.

Ironically, it was B.C. Housing, an agency of the Ministry of Housing, that initially suggested the homeless shelter be expanded to include a third storey with extended stay units.

“It has caused a bit of heartburn over the last year and a half,” said Cook.

“They are the ones who wanted us to add it,” added Green. “So we are going to discuss with them: what do you want us to do?

“We are going to have some open and very frank discussions with them, as we have had all along. They have been very good.

“We want this project to go, Bill wants this project to go, the homeless people need this project to go, we’ve lived through five winters since then, so let’s do what we’ve got to do to make this work.”

MLA Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for the Core Review, said that Coleman’s letter is not a final answer.

“It was a statement of our capacity to fund capital at the time,” said Bennett.

He remains committed to seeing the facility come to fruition.

“I did meet recently with Captain Kirk and Neil and I reiterated my support for the project as my number-one priority for Cranbrook.

“I will keep working on finding funds for this. We are in a very challenging time for money. Our government is committed to balancing the budget and so very few capital projects are being approved.”

The homeless shelter project was born in January 2009, and went through two years of planning and community consultation before the project was submitted for approval.

“We understand that this project has been five years in development, and the economy has gone through a major reset in North America. The reality is that B.C. Housing is now looking at ways to try and serve the need in Cranbrook, but at the same time not break the bank,” said Cook.

Donations for the shelter project continue to roll in from the East Kootenay community to the community foundation and Salvation Army. Green said that over the holidays alone, $10,000 was donated to the facility through the Salvation Army.

Green said he remains confident that the homeless facility will eventually be approved.

“We are assured that at some point this project is going to go ahead. We are very thankful for the support that (B.C. Housing is) giving us, and especially our local MLA, who is very much behind the project and is trying everything he can.”

“Stick with us. We are going to get this thing built,” added Cook.

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