Emergency shelter in Summerside could be up and running by fall

Summerside city council has approved land use at 25 Frank Mellish St. for the P.E.I. government to set up a 10-bed overnight emergency shelter, with some conditions.

The city wants a 12-month review and for the province to provide funding for more Summerside police officers to ensure the area is properly monitored.

"We're happy to see the shelter coming to our community. There is no question we have a growing unhoused population with people living in parks and woods and places people shouldn't be living in," said Mayor Dan Kutcher.

"We have been asking the province to come forward with a place for them to be able to rest their head when they absolutely need it and they have nowhere else to go."

Modular building units are standing ready to be converted into a shelter complex in Summerside, but there's still nobody to operate it.
The shelter will be made up of modular buildings much like the Park Street emergency shelter in Charlottetown. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Council passed the resolution by a 6-1 vote during a special meeting Tuesday night. Coun. Carrie Adams was the only person to vote against allowing the land to be used for an emergency shelter.

The P.E.I. Housing Corporation will be responsible for the shelter. The non-governmental organization Equality Project Inc. will manage day-to-day operations, including hiring supervisors and case workers.

Mike Redmond, who works with Equality Project, said the group plans to balance services with community safety.

"As much as we are committed to make sure we provide the appropriate services for the vulnerable population, it would not be sufficient or acceptable if we were providing services at the expense of the community and putting people in harm's way when people have lived in that community for years."

Beyond a bed

The shelter will serve people over the age of 18, have 24-hour security and will be open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week, provincial officials said in an email.

"In addition to overnight shelter, the shelter will offer access to case management and referral services, access to shower and laundry facilities, and safe storage of belongings," the email said.

The province's plan is to also have some shower access for those who may not be staying overnight, according to the email.

Coun. Cory Snow believes giving some people the ability to shower could be a key component in building relationships with the homeless population.

"Common sense would tell you if they are going to the facility to shower, that's the opportunity then to try to build that relationship so they can start using the facility," Snow said during the special council meeting.

"I just think it's an easy way to help continue to find ways to engage with that community and provide some services for them."

The site of the proposed shelter on Frank Mellish Drive is pictured.
The shelter will be located at 25 Frank Mellish St. near Summerset Manor. (City of Summerside)

After the meeting, Kutcher said he has heard concerns from some people who will be living close to the shelter.

"It's such a challenging issue. We hear about it from both ends of the spectrum," he said.

"We hear about it from, 'We don't want a shelter because we are worried about how that's going to impact the community' and whether there is going to be safety issues, and we hear if from the other side, 'We absolutely need a shelter anywhere because people don't have anywhere to live,' and they are [living] rough or unhoused in parks and forests."

'You can never complain about more beds'

There are shelters in the area, such as the Winter Street Men's Shelter run by the Native Council of P.E.I.

But that shelter often fills up quickly, said the council's Chris Clay, as does Life House, an emergency shelter and transitional housing for women and children.

"Every time I'm up in Summerside I see more and more people out in the parks and on the streets and I know we're at capacity, and Life House is usually always full for women as well, so you can never complain about more beds."

In the past, people living outside have been transported to the Park Street emergency shelter in Charlottetown because shelters in Summerside were full.

"People need to be serviced in their own community and sending people to Charlottetown kind of bottlenecks the problem," Redmond said.

Kutcher agrees.

"There are no easy solutions to it, but by having these services in the community, where some of our most vulnerable live, gives them a better chance of success and better possibilities for the future."

Housing Minister Rob Lantz originally wanted the shelter to be up and running this past winter.

In an email, officials with the province said the next step is for the city to approve a building permit. Once that happens, the province hopes to open the shelter by October.

"I think the key being going into winter. It is no question it becomes much more dangerous for people living unhoused in the winter months," Kutcher said, adding he is encouraged by Lantz's commitment to have the shelter open in the fall.