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Emergency shelter to stay after Abbotsford council reverses prior decision

20 beds now become permanent part of former Red Lion Inn on Pauline Street
The Red Lion Inn and Suites on Pauline Street in Abbotsford was purchased in 2021 by BC Housing to provide supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. (Submitted photo)

A 20-bed emergency shelter on Pauline Street in Abbotsford is allowed to continue after council on Monday reversed an earlier decision that would have resulted in its closure.

The Lighthouse Shelter is located in the former Red Lion Inn and Suites in downtown Abbotsford and is in addition to 30 supportive-housing units in the building.

The emergency shelter has been operating on a temporary basis, but council on July 24 voted against a zoning bylaw amendment and housing agreement that would have seen the 20 beds permanently included as part of the facility.

The decision followed a public hearing in which several residents of an adjacent apartment building detailed their experiences with open drug use, breaks-in, violence and theft in the area.

All council members, except Dave Sidhu, voted against the amendment, which would have resulted in the 20 emergency beds having to be eliminated.

But under a provision of the Community Charter, Mayor Ross Siemens on Aug. 3 requested that council reconsider the matter. He said staff at the July 24th meeting had not been able to answer all of council’s questions – including on crime numbers and provisions of the housing agreement.

Council agreed that staff should provide a more-detailed report and that they would reconsider the matter and conduct a second public hearing.

Following the expanded staff report and a 2.5-hour public hearing on Monday (Sept. 25), all council members except Simon Gibson voted in favour of third and final reading of the applicable bylaw amendment.

Those who commented said the more-detailed report alleviated the concerns they had, particularly around public safety and the rules for tenants at the emergency shelter.

Figures obtained from the Abbotsford Police Department indicated that crime near the building and in the area had stayed about the same – or even declined slightly – in the last three years.

During the public hearing, several service providers – including representatives from BC Housing and the Lookout Housing and Health Society, which runs the facility – talked about the benefits of the shelter.

They said the emergency shelter takes 20 people off the streets every night, providing them with access to bathrooms, laundry, showers, hot meals, case workers, medical supports, workshops and more. The individuals must be referred to the facility; there are no walk-ins.

RELATED: Abbotsford council votes against retaining 20 emergency-shelter beds

“Not having the shelter isn’t going to make any issues go away, and we fear that not having the shelter will only add to the problem,” said Frank Tick of BC Housing.

Another said “visible homelessness and public disorder” would increase if the shelter closed.

But residents of the adjacent Upper Montrose apartment building and nearby business owners – some of whom had spoken at the July 24th public hearing – continued to express their frustration at the ongoing issues they were facing with open drug use, vandalism, theft and loitering.

“I’d never seen a dead body until I moved to Abbotsford and, in the past three years, I’ve seen three dead bodies,” said one resident.

Another resident said she started a petition and obtained 61 signatures from tenants of the apartment building who were all opposed to the emergency shelter.

But a woman representing a nearby business that has been impacted by crime had a counter argument.

“We have seen growth and change in individuals who’ve participated in programs at the Red Lion, and I really don’t believe that removing the housing will decrease crime or vandalism or even drug use in the area,” she said.

Coun. Kelly Chahal said she sympathized with the issues being faced by the neighbours of the emergency shelter.

“I also understand the frustrations that residents continue to feel, but I’m convinced that it’s likely not the residents of the shelter that are causing a lot of these concerns,” she said.

Coun. Patricia Ross said she was reversing her earlier decision after receiving more-detailed answers to the previous concerns she had.

“There is a serious issue here, but closing down this facility does not solve the problems here. In fact, it will make it far worse,” she said.

Coun. Gibson said he was still opposed to the shelter after hearing the continued concerns from residents and business owners.

RELATED: Abbotsford council to reconsider decision on emergency-shelter beds

“My worry is that the shelter will be imposed on the neighbourhood – much to their lament, much to their anguish – and nobody’s helped,” he said.

The mayor responded to Gibson’s comments.

“I look forward to your suggestions on where an appropriate shelter would be and would be welcomed by a neighbourhood,” Siemens said.

He said he is well aware of the issues faced in downtown Abbotsford because he operates a business there – Hub Motor Service – and every city faces similar challenges.

“This isn’t about destroying people’s neighbourhoods. We live in a society that has these challenges and, if we ignore them, they’re not going away,” Siemens said.

Following the vote, a motion from Coun. Patricia Driessen was approved that the concerns and comments made at the public hearing be part of a staff report to come before council’s new public safety advisory committee.

Several comments made during the public hearing offered opportunities for residents and business owners to to regularly address their concerns and arrive at solutions in consultation with BC Housing, Lookout Society and others who are part of a community advisory committee.