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Lethbridge businesses have different views on proposed sober shelter site

Click to play video 'Lethbridge businesses take opposite stances on proposed sober shelter site' Lethbridge businesses take opposite stances on proposed sober shelter site
The proposed site for a new emergency sober shelter is stirring up mixed reactions. The Mustard Seed wants to set up at the old Western One building and that has nearby businesses talking. Taz Dhaliwal has more – Feb 22, 2021

When it comes to the location of Mustard Seed’s proposed emergency sober shelter at the old Western One building at 110 13 Street South, south-side businesses are on the opposite sides of the fence.

“There is a very high-risk group of people, which unfortunately attract a fairly negative element where we see a lot of drug dealing and panhandling that happens in our properties,” said Ted Scholten, general manager of Hobgoblin Holdings Ltd.

Hobgoblin Holdings Ltd. owns the building in the plaza in which Dollarama, along with some other retail businesses and offices, are located.

“We try as hard as we can to create a safe, welcoming environment and these are barriers to us accomplishing that goal,” Scholten added.

Read more: Mustard Seed eyes 2 sites to help address needs of Lethbridge’s vulnerable population

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He goes onto say the company is not against the shelter itself, but rather what could potentially transpire.

“The sober shelter in itself is a really good idea and we’re totally in support of that. The problem is when they’re turned away from the shelter because they haven’t been able to maintain that [sobriety], that’s when we start seeing cracks in the system and problems to neighbours,’ Scholten said.
Click to play video 'Lethbridge police determine no criminal charges in ARCHES investigation' Lethbridge police determine no criminal charges in ARCHES investigation
Lethbridge police determine no criminal charges in ARCHES investigation – Dec 22, 2020

Despite the other businesses that may be supporting the proposed site, he says the company does not feel the shelter is adequately equipped to deal with situations that may arise due to “nefarious” individuals preying on those who are trying to stay sober and are at risk of relapsing.

Scholten also says the company has not been contacted by Mustard Seed yet.

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However, the Mustard Seed says it will be working diligently with the city, police and security to help ensure safety.

The organization says it plans to operate as a 24/7 sober shelter that will serve meals, but not function as a food bank.

Read more: Oilers’ 50/50 ticket sales raise money for organization supporting homeless Edmontonians

It adds it has been very clear and honest with the community in regards to its plans to merg with the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen.

Other nearby business owners have a different opinion when it comes to the proposed location of the sober shelter and feel that the communication on the part of organization has been transparent.

“It’s a much-needed service,” said Duncan Vincent, the owner of Custom Indoor Grow.

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“The government has completely dropped the ball when it comes to providing this service. You know, those people are citizens of the province too.”

“I would prefer it was in a better location — or different location, I should say, because it’s 100 feet from my front door — but it’s got to be somewhere,” Vincent said.

“And, to be honest, it’s probably a good location as far as functionality goes. But yeah, as I said, it’s a necessary service.”

Theoretically Brewing, which is located next to Vincent’s store, says it too looks forward to working with Mustard Seed.

“We recognize the incredible need in our community for services like those proposed by the Mustard Seed and we are in support of these services being offered at this location,” the brewery said in a statement to Global News.

“We are excited by the potential of this project to increase community wellbeing and offer safe and sober accommodation for those in our community needing assistance.

“We look forward to welcoming the Mustard Seed as a neighbour,” the statement goes on to say.

Click to play video 'Mustard Seed proposing two facilities for Lethbridge’s vulnerable population' Mustard Seed proposing two facilities for Lethbridge’s vulnerable population
Mustard Seed proposing two facilities for Lethbridge’s vulnerable population – Dec 7, 2020

Noreen Fawcett, who owns the Lethbridge Custom Canvas, right across the street from Theoretically Brewing and Custom Indoor Grow is taking the same stance as her commercial neighbours.

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“I would like to say that our city is in great need of of the service they offer. If a person is addicted and gets clean, they have nowhere to go to get the support they need to stay clean and move on with their life,” Fawcett said in a statement.

“This shelter is a stepping stone for that service.

“If we don’t offer this help to these individuals, the cycle just goes on and on with becoming re-addicted as soon as they are out of detox.”

Fawcett doesn’t think her business will be threatened by the presence of those seeking help at the sober shelter.

She too says The Mustard Seed has been open about its plans and recommends others check on how its other sites in different cities have been doing.

“According to the police, around their Red Deer site, they have been very successful and [the] crime rate has gone down. The Mustard Seed works to make the site attractive and clean and well lit,” Fawcett says.

Read more: Lethbridge patrol notes increased overdoses, needle debris since ARCHES closure

Fawcett adds she feels that the supervised consumption site in the city, which closed down last summer, has ruined some people’s perception of what could be done to help address homelessness and the opioid crisis.

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Mustard Seed says it’s been having a number of conversations with business owners and managers in the area for several months and it’s also been handing out flyers outlining plans for the proposed site.

Byron Bradley, managing director of Mustard Seed in southern Alberta and Lethbridge, says the organization is focused on addressing a shortage in shelter for the vulnerable.

“Lethbridge right now has the highest shelter utilization rates in the province.

“We’re seeing numbers stabilize across many cities and in many cases those numbers are going down, but Lethbridge does not have enough space for people, especially during COVID-19,” he explained.

“Many of us in society have the luxury of being able to distance ourselves in our own homes,” Bradley said.

“In Lethbridge, the shelter is so overcrowded that we need more space. That being said, there is not a sober space.”

A public hearing on the zoning of the site will be held in front of city council on March 9.

The Mustard Seed says it will only be able to proceed with the sale of the property once council approves zoning.