Council rejects downtown location for homeless shelter and community support centre

Prince Albert city council has rejected a plan to locate a new homeless shelter at 1306 Central Avenue, the site of the old Houle Furniture store. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert city council denied a request at Monday’s Executive Committee meeting to create a homeless shelter and community support centre after a disagreement on the downtown location. 

Kim Meyer, a Prince Albert resident of 20 years, initially reached out to the Mustard Seed in July of 2021 after realizing her efforts of feeding the homeless were temporary. The Mustard Seed is a Christian non-profit organization that originated in Calgary and has been serving the homeless population since the 1980’s. 

After meeting with multiple community members and other similar organizations like the Prince Albert Grand Council, YWCA, and Riverbank Development, the Mustard Seed assessed the possibility of opening a support centre and homeless shelter in the city. 

Their proposed location at 1306 Central Avenue was denied by City Council due to the Prince Albert Business Improvement District’s lack of support and not being included in the City’s future re-landscaping plan for the downtown area. 

“The Mustard Seed was not a part of the formula and I don’t think they fit,” said Mayor Greg Dionne. “The only people I’m concerned about today are the downtown business owner who has owned a third generation family business that doesn’t want this kind of use.”

Bill Nixon, Director of Support Services for the Mustard Seed, explained that this location was chosen due to needs of the City’s homeless population.

“We looked at a lot of locations and the primary reason we looked at this location was, winter is coming,” he said. “It gives us the ability to get a facility that can be renovated fairly quickly so we are able to care for people.”

“We’ve been a good neighbour everywhere we’ve been and I don’t see why we won’t be this time.”

“You’re a good neighbour in the right location,” said Dionne. 

Coun. Blake Edwards amended the recommendation to include that the City’s planning department continue working with the Mustard Seed on finding a more suitable location.

“I have some concerns [about having the centre] on the main shopping street,” said Edwards. “I believe it should be located just off of Central Avenue, somewhere in the downtown area. I’ve talked to the public and they have concerns, even though it’s a necessity in the community.”

Nixon said the centre needs to be easily accessible, otherwise few residents will use it.

“The average homeless person will not walk more than four blocks for services,” he explained. “If you put things out of the realm of where they’re going to go, then they don’t access those services.”

He said the Mustard Seed has looked at eight different locations so far, but the property was the only one that had the facilities needed to be functional quickly. 

“Here in this chamber, we hear a lot about social issues and social concerns,” said Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp, who represents the area of the city the Mustard Seed is proposing to settle in. “It’s really nice to see an action item of something that could alleviate or assist.”

Nixon said what he loves about City Council’s discussion is that everyone agrees there is an opportunity for the Mustard Seed to do something. 

“I’ve been doing this everyday of my life for the last 20 years,” continued Nixon. “I was asked by a Councilman why I continue to do this, and it’s because it’s worth it.”

The recommendation passed seven to two on Monday, with the request that the City’s planning department come back with an alternative location at the next Executive Committee meeting.