Council to vote on John Howard Society residential care home proposal at Monday meeting

Prince Albert City Hall -- Herald file photo.

Prince Albert city council will vote on two new property development proposals when they meet for their regular council meeting on March 15.

City administrators have recommended approving a PAGC application to build a new residential care facility for children who are between 18 months and 11 years old. They’ve also recommended support for a John Howard Society (JHS) of Saskatchewan proposal to build a new residential care home for men taking part in a federally funded anti-gang program.

The PAGC facility will be built on 851 23rd Street West. The care home will be licensed through the Ministry of Social Services, and have space for five children. Staff will be on site at all times.

In a letter to council included in Monday’s agenda package, PAGC director Leona Sorenson wrote that the home would provide care and supervision to children in a safe, nurturing and structured environment.

The John Howard Society proposal first came before council on Feb. 22. Council voted to postpone a decision at that time so they hold a COVID-safe meeting with residents who lived in the area. If approved, the care home would be built at 2201 First Avenue West.

City officials and John Howard Society representatives met with local homeowners on March 2 to discuss the proposal. However, at least one resident wrote to city council arguing that not all residents who live within 75 meters of the development were notified. The letter writer asked that the proposal be postponed again for further consultation. Another wrote in arguing that residents who lived just outside the 75 meter boundary should also have been consulted.

Monday’s agenda package contains six letters from nearby residents who oppose the development. One resident who has lived in the area for more than 30 years wrote that they supported the program, but not the location. They wrote that it was too close to Kinsmen Park and PACI high school, which could cause problems for local families and students.

“Kinsmen Park has evolved into a destination park where parents from all over the city come to make use of the playground and spray pad,” the letter reads. “It is highly unlikely that these parents would be supportive of a CRF (Correctional Residential Facility) being established within 82 meters of the spray pad.”

The letter writer also expressed concerns about the violence and substance abuse that often takes place in the park, writing that it could be detrimental to care home residents who are trying to escape that kind of life.

“This does not just occur at night, but also during the day, when families with young children are in the park,” the letter reads. “I have had neighbours who use the park threatened, and their personal property stolen from them. The John Howard Society needs to reconsider if this is really the type of environment that they want their residents to be exposed to.”

In an email to the Daily Herald, JHS communications director Blair Roberts wrote that calling the building a correctional residential facility was inaccurate. He said the focus was on helping men who are not in the corrections system, and not affiliated with any gang.

“There are more than 100 of these kinds of facilities operating in PA already, albeit with different mandates than ours, but similar in scope,” Roberts wrote. “(They are) providing a safe place for people who need it. We just worry that the incorrect word ‘corrections’ paints a picture of it being a halfway house, and that’s certainly not the case.”

The JHS received one letter of support, which was also included in the Monday agenda package. It came from Prince Albert Community Housing Society manager Linda Boyer, who wrote that Prince Albert desperately needed programs to keep young men and women from joining gangs. Boyer wrote that she had “zero concerns” with the project.

“I have observed first hand what happens when young adults age out at 18, many without supports whatsoever or having to return home to a dysfunctional family, anger and confused,” her letter reads. “If there were more projects such as this to support these young people to become active members of society they would be less inclined to turn to a life of crime and drugs.”

City planner Ellen Pearson wrote that it seemed all participants were satisfied with what they heard from the JHS during the meeting on Mar. 2. Her report was also included in the agenda package.

Pearson also wrote that care homes like the one proposed by JHS should be spread out around the city instead of clustered in one specific area.

“The proposed development conforms to the (Access to Housing) policy statement as it will provide housing to individuals whose housing needs are not being met in the private market, and who would benefit from additional stability and support,” she wrote.

The JHS program is voluntary, so participants cannot be ordered by the court to take part. It provides educational support to young men trying to finish high school, learn work skills, receive cultural supports and take advantage of land-based learning opportunities.

They plan to start with a handful of participants, and gradually increase their numbers. The JHS says the program funding is earmarked specifically for the Prince Albert region, meaning local young men will receive help first. They’re hoping other local organizations will refer possible participants.

The development is one of 22 items up for discussion when council meets on Monday. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in City Hall.

[Editor’s Note: this story has been updated to include written comments from the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan. Story updated at 6:18 p.m., March 13.]