The P.E.I. government's decision to relocate the provincial outreach centre in Charlottetown is drawing fierce criticism, with some Islanders saying the province is just kicking the can down the road.
Premier Dennis King announced Friday that the province intends to move the Community Outreach Centre from its current location on Charlottetown's Euston Street to a spot close to the city's Park Street temporary emergency shelter, near the Hillsborough Bridge.
The current location has been controversial, with residents complaining about property damage, fights and discarded needles.
During the announcement, King acknowledged there was "no ideal location" for the centre, but said the province is working hard to address residents' concerns.
Some people interviewed near the Euston Street location on Friday afternoon told CBC News they welcome the news.
"It's just a little unsettling for old people," said Susan Edwards. She said the Park Street shelter is "kind of away from things a bit, so I think it might be a bit better. I'd certainly feel a lot safer if it wasn't here."
Susan Edwards says she hopes the proposed move will make her neighbourhood safer. (Steve Bruce/CBC)
"I think that's a good idea," said Bobby Hill. "But they're still going to have problems no matter where they go, because there's just too many people using."
Karson McKeown lives close to the Park Street shelter. He said having the overnight modular bedrooms nearby has already been causing problems for residents — and he worries adding the Community Outreach Centre to the location will make things worse.
"Nobody wants this in their neighbourhood. Definitely, I don't want that either," he said.
Karson McKeown lives close to the Park Street overnight shelter, made up of several small modular buildings. He said having those facilities close by has already been causing problems for residents — and he worries adding the outreach centre will only make things worse. (Steve Bruce/CBC)
"Already, we see a lot of foot traffic and nuisance going on on this street, just with the shelter down there. And it's almost a little scary going down Euston Street, in front of the current outreach centre. So yeah, not a good thing."
'We aren't doing anything differently'
The province's Official Opposition was quick to voice concerns over the decision after the announcement.
Interim Liberal Leader Hal Perry says the move won't make a difference.
The province is pledging to boost funding for police in the area around the Park Street emergency shelter and appoint a support team to work with nearby homeowners. (Tony Davis/CBC)
"All they did was literally kick it down the road into another neighborhood," he said. "There needs to be a new model of delivery. What's presently available is not working."
Perry said "it doesn't make sense" to host people struggling with homelessness and those recovering from addictions in the same facility.
Interim Green Leader Karla Bernard called the decision "reactionary."
"It doesn't seem like they've taken the last three years to think about this project and where might be the best location for it," she said. "We can't kid ourselves the problems aren't going to move with it, because we aren't doing anything differently."
Councillor says move 'not fair' to community
To try to stave off some of those problems, the province is pledging to boost funding for policing in the area and appoint a support team to work with nearby homeowners, among other things.
Coun. Mitchell Tweel, a vocal opponent of the centre, said he has no confidence those measures will make the neighbourhood safer.
"Why would I believe or why would the community believe everything is going to be copacetic, that everything is going to be well?" he said. "They haven't addressed the issues here. They haven't addressed the issues when it was down on Weymouth Street."
'Why would I believe or why would the community believe everything is going to be copacetic, that everything is going to be well?' says Coun. Mitchell Tweel. (Steve Bruce/CBC)
The centre has been on the move often since it opened at 211 Euston Street. It moved to Birchwood School in March 2020. Then it was hosted at Smith Lodge on Weymouth Street, until its most recent move to the former curling club at 241 Euston.
"Government is making the same mistake all over again in terms of not properly consulting with people in the immediate area," Tweel said. "All we're doing is just transferring the same problems several blocks away to another neighbourhood.... That's not fair."
The counsellor called for the facility to be "shut down completely" and for the government to evaluate "what they're trying to accomplish" with it.
'People need help'
Back on Euston Street, some of the centre's clients told CBC News the centre does good work, and must continue to exist.
"I was here for couple of months and it helped me," said Robert Vissey. "It got me a spot were I can stay at the moment. It's not permanent, but it's a start."
Robert Vissey says the centre helped him, and believes it must continue to exist. (Steve Bruce/CBC)
Vissey said the announcement on Friday gave him some hope services will continue, and possibly even improve.
"People need help... That's all it takes," he said.
As for the Park Street site, he said: "They won't like it down there either, the community.... People need help, and it's got to stay in some form."
The province's plan depends on the City of Charlottetown approving a zoning variance to allow the centre to move. The government says it will close the current location within 60 days of that approval being granted.
A city spokesperson said Friday that it could take three months for an application to make it through the approval process, so any move to Park Street would be about five months away at the earliest.