Pam McConnell knew better

When the Shelter Support and Housing SSHA can’t do what they want because zoning does not allow it, the councillors step in and change the zoning. Then the SSHA can now fulfil their mandate without consultation or input from the community. “we were not consulted,” the councillors say, or “we don’t have any say in the matter”, and the best is we “expressed our concern”. Don’t believe me? Here is the response to a local residents association from the city councillor office that stated, “the Councillor has absolutely no say on where these shelters are placed and whether or not the leases get extended.” Really? You did have a say and you changed the zoning.

Our very own Pam McConnell moved a bill in back in the day stating that shelters and crisis centres should not be built within 250 meters of a similar property. Smart, really smart, and it passed. She obviously knew that if left unchecked, there would be a consolidation, some say over-concentration, of said services in one area.

It read like this “(iii) the lot on which the municipal shelter is located is at least 250 metres from any other lot with a municipal shelter or emergency shelter, hostel or crisis care facility; and (iv) the municipal shelter, including its location, has been approved by City Council.”

So in pre-pandemic 2019, just after the last election city council voted and changed the 250-meter rule and thier ability to approve locations. And what happened? New shelters and crisis centres start popping up everywhere. “nothing we can do”, as councillors say. At the time of the 2019 decision, the same report stated, “Ward 13, which has similar boundaries to the east, encompasses 41% of the City’s shelter beds, excluding those located in hotels and motels. The three wards that comprise the downtown core, Wards 10, 11, and 13, are home to 65% of the City’s permanent shelter beds.” 41 Percent in Ward 13!!! The smallest ward by land size! 35% of shelter beds in the City were being shouldered by 22 wards. In other words, Ward 13 had 41% and 22 of the 25 wards had an average of 1.6%.

It seems like a game of hiding the blame being played at city hall. As we know, the councillors can’t challenge the “staff decisions of SSHA” with their delegated authority. So what leads to a zoning change? Why on earth would they remove a restriction that removed their own ability to approve a decision? Clearly, because they wanted to add more. Don’t fall for the “I was blindsided by the news” and “I have expressed my concerns” because the apparent outcome of voting to create more availability and limiting oversight for shelters will obviously be more shelters with less oversight. This is not ancient news…it was this current council, pre-pandemic, that relinquished their own power and lifted very modest distancing restrictions.

What is becoming evidently clear is that as more services are “placed” in the Parliament Street corridor and not equitably distributed throughout the entire City there will be more significant challenges. As the retail and commercial environment erodes, businesses will fail. The building owners will become easy marks for SSHA to swoop in and gobble up the properties without having to make them 250 meters apart, with no community consultation and only “raised concerns” and “no say in the matter” from the council.

Maybe we should express our concerns with city council as it appears we don’t have Pam McConnell to watch our back.

Contributed by Pete Lovering

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