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Saskatoon pastor turned council hopeful disputes status of shelter

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Robert Pearce, a local pastor who plans on running for city council, believes the homeless shelter in Fairhaven violates zoning bylaws.

Pearce has publicly called for the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) wellness centre to be closed on numerous occasions, claiming it’s brought more crime to the neighbourhood and made people feel less safe.

Now, he says he’s obtained a 2022 letter from a city administrator to social services minister Gene Makowsky advising the province to open the facility as a special care home to avoid having to rezone.

The letter says opening the shelter as a care home “is more straightforward than if a rezoning were required … the approvals of permit applications can be done administratively, without the need for public engagement.”

Pearce says the wellness centre doesn’t meet the criteria set out for either care home, or shelter.

The city’s letter says a commercial kitchen with a suppression and exhaust system would need to be installed, and special care homes require that every guest must be examined by a medical practitioner, Pearce says.

“If this is a special care home, it’s illegal per provincial laws and even the conditions set out in the letter. If it’s a shelter, which it’s funded as such, it’s illegal under the zoning bylaw,” Pearce said.

"Did the city ever follow up and inspect the property to ensure everything was up to code? It's logical if they had, it would surely be compliant with all the laws and regulations, or it would have been closed by now.”

In a statement, the City of Saskatoon says the definition of special care home in the zoning bylaw permits "a nursing home, supervisory care home, sheltered care home or other facility used for the purpose of providing supervisory care, personal care, and nursing care.”

It says the land can be used for “assembly” and as a wellness centre, or supervisory care home.

The city says the STC’s shelter does not actually need a commercial kitchen.

“The approved permit does not include commercial cooking. The kitchen is approved for the reheating of food only, and is in compliance with the National Building Code,” the city said in its statement to CTV News.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) operates the shelter, and says it's been inspected and is all up to code.

"I think at the end of the day it meets the needs of what we are trying to accomplish,” said STC Chief Mark Arcand.

“Is it perfect? Probably not. But I've never seen a perfect facility solve all the issues we have in Saskatoon and it’s just working together on how we improve.”

Arcand says nurses come in and do supports, the health authority provides supports, and it’s the province funding it.

"They've funded us. So I think we meet the requirements, and at the end of the day we are showing outcomes and results. We are helping children and families and individuals that need a place to stay."

Meanwhile, the city says it's looking at other potential sites around Saskatoon at the request of the province, which is trying to open 120 new emergency shelter spaces in the province to deal with the escalating humanitarian crisis in Saskatchewan’s cities.

-With files from Laura Woodward 

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