Lacombe city council has approved bylaw changes to allow the use of a former church and school for transitional housing.
The building to be renovated at 5346 50th St. in Lacombe was previously a Wolf Creek Public Schools outreach school and before that was the Lacombe Pentecostal Church. Council unanimously approved a specific site exemption to allow for transitional housing.
The Broom Tree Foundation hopes to create up to 10 living units for women and children and five offices in the building that has been vacant for a number of years. Residents would have a curfew and staff would be on site at all times.
Clients may include women who are facing challenges because they have lost a partner, have health issues, are jobless or are victims of domestic or sexual abuse. The housing is not meant for women facing visible addictions or whose lives may be in danger because of domestic abuse. They will be referred to other facilities, such as shelters or rehabiliation centres.
A typical stay is expected to be two to six weeks with maximum stays of a year.
A development permit must still be approved by the municipal planning commission before construction can begin.
Broom Tree co-founder and program director Tamara Noordhof told council the foundation was formed three years ago to meet the growing needs for support for women and children. More than 240 women have been helped since and temporary housing has been found for nearly 50 homeless women and their children.
“Unfortunately, we are dealing with a significant lack of affordable housing here in Lacombe. We have seen an increase in families facing homelessness,” said Noordhof.
Noordhof said Broom Tree representatives went door to door in the neighbourhood and invited residents to two open houses to explain plans for the site.
Among the concerns were the prospect of having people battling addictions coming into the community.
Noordhof said drugs and alcohol will not be permitted on the site and occupants cannot be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. They will be given help accessing treatment elsewhere.
Residents were also concerned about an increase in traffic. Noordhof said the amount of traffic will be similar to current levels.
The facility is not meant to serve as a shelter for women freeing domestic violence and require secure housing, she said. Women in those situations will be referred to specialized shelters.
Not all nearby residents wanted to see a transitional housing facility in the neighbourhood. One resident told the facility will create a nuisance and reduce property values and could open the door to other facilities such as safe injection sites or other support services.
Another resident said there is not enough outdoor play space for children and parking and the facility will add to traffic issues. While the facility of its kind is needed, it is the wrong place for it, she said.
Mayor Grant Creasey expressed confidence that the concerns of neighbours can be addressed when the planning commission reviews the development permit application.
There is likely not a perfect location but he believes the facility could be built in a way that respects the neighbourhood and residents.
Creasey said while he has confidence in the current proponents he would like to see something in place, such as a temporary approval, to protect residents who have concerns the facility could increase in scope.
Planning staff said that changing the site to offer addictions treatment or other medical uses would require further approval.