City is evicting non-profits

A letter from Whispers of Hope board chair Louise Heck.

Editor, the Gazette:

Whispers of Hope has provided meals and a drop in space Monday through Friday for anyone who is hungry or in need of companionship for over 20 years. We serve seniors, families, working poor and individuals who are experiencing various levels of homelessness. We currently serve approximately 50 meals daily. Our thrift store helps offset the cost of operating the kitchen.

In 2013, Whispers moved from Central Avenue to a city-owned building on Riverside Drive where we pay minimal rent. We currently share a lease with BETHS. Habitat for Humanity was at that time a partner in the project (MAAP) and the main leaseholder.

The building we currently occupy, purchased by previous city council, was selected to have minimal impact on neighbouring businesses and residents. With a five year lease in place, renovations were undertaken by, and under the supervision of Habitat for Humanity.

With a change in council and a need by the MAAP to secure funding for the transitional housing portion of our project, we approached the new City council with a request to extend our lease to a 10-year term. We were denied and Habitat withdrew from the project.

In August 2017, BETHS and Whispers were given a letter stating that we were to cease operations in three days and to vacate the premises in 30 days. (This was an in camera decision by city council.) There had been no previous correspondence by the city to our board.

Feeling that the eviction was not in accordance with our lease, we continued business as usual.

The following week, BETHS chair and myself were called back in to meet with council to receive another in-camera decision and were given another letter stating that we had 30 days to comply with bylaw infractions (containers on the premises and unsightly conditions) and that we were still to vacate in six months, even if we did comply.

In January, we approached the city to with a request to honour the terms of the original lease and to even consider renewing until such a time as community stakeholders can develop a collaborative plan to address these serious social issues.

A motion made by Councillor Ross to extend our eviction until May 1, amended to March 31, passed on the condition that we address what the city considered to be safety violations to the electrical, range venting and adding the city on our insurance policy by the Jan. 29 council meeting. We complied.

The city is evicting two non-profit organizations who have been working to address the serious social issues of isolation, housing and nutrition.

At the close of the Jan. 29 council meeting an in-camera decision to demolish the city-owned building at 7212 Riverside Dr. that houses Whispers of Hope and BETHS (that passed building inspections when it was renovated in 2013) was made public.

Louise Heck

Chair; Whispers of Hope

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