City of Kamloops staff say Merit Place, a new temporary homeless shelter located in the former Greyhound bus depot in Sahali, is set to open in the coming days, and the timeline for completion of a controversial North Shore shelter has been sped up considerably.
Carmin Mazzotta, the city’s social, housing and community development manager, told mayor and council Tuesday that people currently living in a shelter set up at Memorial Arena will be gradually moved to the 50-bed site once it opens.
“CMHA will help folks currently sheltering at Memorial Arena gradually transition to the site over a period of two to three weeks,” Mazzotta said.
“Once Memorial has been fully vacated, city staff will transition Memorial back to recreational use in time for the dry floor recreational season.”
Merit Place is one of three new temporary shelter spaces in Kamloops, funded by BC Housing and operated by Canadian Mental Health Association Kamloops.
Mazzotta said Moira House, a 40-bed shelter being constructed at 600 Kingston Avenue on the North Shore, will be operational by late March. In November, the province initially estimated Moira House would open by early 2022.
Mazzotta said Moira House, which has garnered pushback from nearby residents, would still be providing low-barrier services but those living on the property will have a “lower level of need.”
“The shelter operator CMHA intends to utilize Moira House for people who have a lower level of vulnerability and a lower level of need, and who may be ready for longer-term supportive housing options as units become available in the community,” Mazzotta told council.
“This doesn't mean that unsheltered people experiencing homelessness will be turned away when they arrive at Moira House, but they will be triaged to other shelter sites.”
A temporary shelter operated by CMHA and Out of the Cold at the former Stuart Wood elementary school downtown will close on March 31, but Mazzotta said this location may be identified as a possible shelter site for next winter.
“Given how well managed and run the Stuart Wood shelter has been this year thus far, it may well be a potential proposed winter shelter site again,” he said.
Mazzotta said the shelter system currently has a capacity of 153 beds — including the 20 temporary beds at Stuart Wood — which will increase to 170 beds once Merit Place and Moira House are opened.
He said the shelter system can expand capacity in response to extreme weather events, which happened during this December’s cold snap, and thanked all agencies involved in ensuring enough beds were available for those seeking shelter as temperatures plunged.
Mazzotta said there are more shelter beds needed, and the city is currently working on a land-use analysis to identify areas that might be suitable for future year-round shelter sites.
He said some of the community planning principles involved in this analysis include assessing access to healthcare and social services, employment areas and commercial amenities, encouraging infill development and reducing sprawl.
Mazzotta said this information will be available in the form of an interactive map which, once completed, will be shared to the city’s Let’s Talk page for public input.
“We also plan to engage and gather feedback from shelter users, and this is significant, as well as people with lived or living experience in homelessness as to what services and supports they access, what transportation infrastructure and routes they use, and what matters to them in terms of location criteria,” Mazzotta said.
Mazzotta said the intent is to have possible sites for year-round shelter identified by the fall, with a minimum of one new site established by next spring.
Mayor Ken Christian says he is “feeling better about the housing situation” after recent presentations to council by Mazzotta and David Eby, the provincial minister responsible for housing, but asked Mazzotta what kind of public consultation is planned.
“I’m wondering, in terms of the consultation with neighbourhoods, is there discussion ongoing with BC Housing about a formula by which that would happen and timeliness by which that would happen,” Christian asked.
Mazzotta said the structure for Kamloops’ safe and secure engagement groups will now include neighbourhood associations.
“That may be an opportunity to have some of these discussions and to discuss the shelter land use analysis and use that as a vehicle to get that out not just to neighbourhood associations but to residents across the community,” Mazzotta said.