Emotions ran high at a Leduc city council meeting Monday night as several residents called for the closure of the city's only homeless shelter while others called on councillors to protect shelter services.
After nearly four hours of debate, council voted 6-1 in favour of a motion to affirm its commitment to uninterrupted emergency shelter spaces in the city, 35 kilometres south of Edmonton.
The Leduc Hub Association, which provides meals and shelter to the city's homeless population, could close as early as April 30 if it can't find a new home.
Members of the Leduc Hub Association went before council Monday to outline why the hub's services are needed, calling on councillors to make a public commitment to ensure uninterrupted access to shelter services.
Executive director Susan Johnson told council spaces like the hub are essential. Barriers to accessing safe shelters contribute to the growth of encampments, she said.
She said if the hub closes, the homeless population in Leduc won't just vanish into big cities.
"We understand that the city has to balance shelter needs against those of the general public and our business community," she said.
"While many people in our community will say they support us, they also don't want to see us."
Johnson said there are about 100 homeless people in Leduc, based on counts done by the association and the RCMP, but she believes the actual number could be higher.
Several residents of Leduc spoke out against the city’s only homeless shelter as volunteers appeared before city council to ask for a public commitment to protecting shelter services. (City of Leduc)
Councillors heard from 38 people who expressed support and concern about the shelter's operations.
Melissa Lenos, owner of the King Business Solutions Centre in Leduc, said her business is located across the street from the hub. She said there have been problems with loitering, property damage and drug overdoses since the hub moved into its current location.
While she believes Leduc needs a temporary emergency overnight shelter, Lenos said she also wants her staff to be safe.
"The community centre that the hub has created has done nothing but bring crime and nuisance to the downtown, negatively affecting the lives and the local businesses," Lenos told council.
Shannon Whitehouse, lead pastor of the Leduc Alliance Church, said Leduc council needs to take an active role in helping the hub find a new location. He said people don't like to see negative things like homelessness because it makes them uncomfortable.
"Well, let's step up," Whitehouse said, encouraging them to "love as Jesus loved."
Business owner Eric Schrader said council should be directing funds to resources that address the root causes of homelessness instead of organizations like the hub to ensure homeless people actually receive support rather than "slapping a Band-Aid on the problem."
"My heart truly goes out to these people that need the hub as it is a difficult circumstance for them to be in," he said.
"But I'd rather see actual supports being put in a place that are generating long-term successful changes for these vulnerable individuals, without the threat of long-term residents falling into similar vulnerable states due to the resources like the hub being presented in our downtown."
Following nearly four hours of public commentary, council members voted to affirm Leduc's commitment to uninterrupted emergency shelter spaces.
Coun. Bill Hamilton, who sits on the Leduc Homelessness Task Force and voted in favour of the motion, said he has operational concerns about the hub and its location, but he's in support of trying to find solutions.
"We appreciate the good work the hub does, but we have real concerns about the community as well, so we've got to try to find that balance," he said.
"If a motion in principle to supporting this helps us get towards solutions, I'm all about that."