by: Patricia Kozicka
EDMONTON – The debate surrounding a controversial supportive housing proposal for Terwillegar Towne has been heating up, but the issue is not a foreign one to a number of other Edmonton communities.
Homeward Trust, the organization helping back the development in Terwillegar Towne, has already completed 59 similar projects in Edmonton as part of its mission to help end homelessness.
One of them is Edward Street, located on 124th Street and 116 Avenue. The three-storey building is described as a secure building that houses mentally ill people in need.
Unlike the 60 units proposed for the Terwillegar Towne facility, the Edward Street building only has 27 units. It is also more centrally located, with easy access to transit as well as other services and amenities. Residential communities are just a half block away, though. There’s also a park nearby, and the more affluent community of Westmount is located a little further south.
One resident, who has two young children, is not concerned about living a few blocks away from the Edward Street Building.
“It’s all safe, they’re all supervised. They’re in housing. They have to have a place to go, a safe place,” he says.
There’s no denying that no two projects are exactly the same. Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust admits that the Terwillegar Towne project is not only one of the larger ones they’ve funded, but is also located further from downtown than any other previous application. Still, it does have its supporters.
“I think that people simply don’t understand that new, affordable housing projects like the one proposed for Terwillegar can in fact be good neighbours,” says John Kolkman with the Edmonton Social Planning Council. “And really these developers are about finding permanent homes for people so they can make a positive contribution to society.”
Not everyone, however, is willing to have a supportive housing facility in their backyard.
“We moved here and now it seems like they’re bringing all those people from downtown area to southwest where we just came out from,” Gloria Zelli said Monday evening after a meeting about the project. “They’re shadowing us here. And we really don’t need that, we don’t want it.”
“There’s a lot of units that are for sale where we are now, and now we’re just starting to find out why. And so we’re probably going to sell as well,” added Abby Carrothers. “I’m not going to stay at a building that’s going to put my four-year-old at risk.”
Many of the roughly 500 attendees at Monday’s meeting voiced their concerns about what they feel has been a lack of consultation on the project. The fact that the developer, Murray Soroka of Jasper Place Health and Wellness, was also not there to answer residents’ questions did not help the situation.
Soroka told Global News on Tuesday that he was originally told the meeting was for community members only; and by the time he received an invite late last week, he had already left for holidays.
On the matter of who the tenants will be – which many residents expressed concern about – he says applicants will range from men and women to single mothers and families.
“These are people, let’s be clear. These are individuals who need a second chance into rebuilding their lives. They’re not dangerous people, they’re notâ€¦rapists or murderers. These are people that need an opportunity to get their lives back on track… plus there’ll be support in the building, as well as external support from the Housing First program.”
He also rejects the claims of some residents who believe the project will go ahead, no matter what.
“The funding is conditional,” he explains. “And we haven’t met the condition yet from both of our funders, and part of the conditional funding is to have these open meetings and to discuss with the public. So, this is nowhere near being a done deal.”
There are two upcoming meetings scheduled to be held at the Holy Trinity Church: August 8 and 15 (5 to 8 p.m.). A community information session is also scheduled for August 22 (7 p.m.).
With files from Vinesh Pratap and Quinn Ohler, Global News