Although land has already been cleared, and site work began weeks ago on a proposed new homeless facility near the Alexander Hamilton Park, Lac La Biche County council officially began the re-zoning process at Tuesday's council meeting.
A re-zoning application — taking the 3.2 hectare piece of municipal land that sits alongside the new Rotary frisbee golf course's first fairway in the park from a "highway commercial" designation to "public institution" — was approved by council in the first of three readings. The new location is expected to house mobile trailers, and may not, says Lac La Biche County Mayor Paul Reutov, be a "set in stone" permanent location. The site sits along-side a service road right-of-way south of the Lac La Biche Bingo Hall and bowling alley. The land is near the community garden plots inside the Hamilton Park as well as walking paths into the Lac La Biche downtown.
The approval of the first reading allows the process to go to a public hearing with notifications going to adjacent landowners.
The location, which was agreed to by Lac La Biche councillors following a behind-closed-doors meeting in September, was the third-choice option of the local Homeless Task Force before going into the in-camera meeting. The task force, made up of stakeholders including representatives from the local men's shelter, the Metis Nation of Alberta and municipal officials, has been meeting and collecting data for more than five years on the topic.
The issue came to the forefront in during the 2020-21 winter when two different makeshift homeless camps were torn down by municipal officials due to health and safety concerns. A new, temporary shelter area was then created on municipal land in the Bonesville subdivision south of the Lac La Biche hamlet. Small heated sheds were built for more than a dozen people to occupy through the winter months of 2021-22. Services at the Bonesville location include regular bus transportation into Lac La Biche for those staying in the sheds. Since that location has been operating, as many as two dozen regular users have occupied it.
The Bonesville site was initially created as only a temporary solution until the task force could present a long-term solution. While the Bonesville camp does see regular visits from Metis Nation and municipal officials, healthcare and mental health workers, as well as cultural elders, the new facility is expected to offer full-time, wrap-around services for a wide range of social issues.
Initial discussions included the building of a fence to keep the new facility closed-off to the general public. Other landscaping buffers may also be needed if the new location goes ahead.
The goal was to have the new facility opened this year before the temperatures fall to winter lows.
According to information detailed on a typical sample of a re-zoning application from provide by Lac La Biche County, the process — which includes two weeks of online and newspaper advertising, and a public hearing, can take upwards of four months to complete.
Costs to create a series of insulated trailers to offer a communal kitchen, meeting room and washrooms, as well as sleeping areas, were approved in the 2021 municipal budget. Utility services are already available to the site. The updated costs is to bring in the reconditioned mobile trailers is about $650,000 with half of that amount covered through grant funding. The budget for operating costs of the project were not known by initial publication time.