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Riverside Mission could leave Moose Jaw if city delays project

Joe Miller with Souls Harbour Rescue Mission (SHRM), which oversees Riverside Mission, was one of four people to speak during the July 8 council meeting about the location of the charity’s new home at 212 and 218 River Street West.
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MOOSE JAW - Riverside Mission will leave Moose Jaw and withdraw all services if city council or the Good Neighbours Group attempts to delay the charity’s proposed construction project, its executive director says.

Joe Miller with Souls Harbour Rescue Mission (SHRM), which oversees Riverside Mission, was one of four people to speak during the July 8 council meeting about the location of the charity’s new home at 212 and 218 River Street West.

Miller defended the project, while the three others wanted it built somewhere else.

Riverside Mission

“What I want to share is not a threat, but a very high probability. At this point, Souls Harbour Rescue Mission has invested over $500,000 into the new facility,” Miller said. “If the project is further delayed, there exists a strong possibility that we will withdraw services for the community.”

SHRM would cancel the project, while Riverside Mission would stop serving meals and offering shelter space, he continued. SHRM would demolish the more than 100-year-old Manitoba Street location, sell that land and the project’s proposed site to recoup costs, and move to a more welcoming community.

Miller then addressed some “misinformation” about the project, even though the charity delivered flyers about it to every Moose Jaw household.

He explained that the original vision was to construct a new $7 million building with 30 housing units for addiction programming. However, that was a pre-pandemic cost, and that money isn’t available today.

“We have stripped the project down to the core of humanitarian (efforts) of food, shelter (and) clothing. There will be no addiction component to this build,” he said.

The project will inject $4 million into the economy, local tradesmen will be given priority, a community artist will paint a mural, two full-time jobs will be created, and the venue will feed, shelter and clothe people, not just the homeless, but immigrants, the working poor and seniors, Miller said.

“To not proceed (with the project) sends an ominous message to not just Moose Jaw but other communities in Saskatchewan as well. Maybe even a message that says The Friendly City is so friendly,” he stated.

Council approved this project in December 2020, so this discussion against it should be over because costs will increase if delays happen, the executive director said.

Relocating the project is not an option either, considering the Mission has served the downtown for decades, Miller added. Those efforts have seen the Chamber of Commerce and police service recognize the charity with awards for being an outstanding community member.

Good Neighbours Group

Carolyn Ross with the Good Neighbours Group (GNG) summarized the four meetings held since last December that attempted to address downtown safety. However, one common theme was residents’ concerns “were falling on deaf ears.”

Ross questioned what the city had done since then to address safety, considering crime is rising, vandalism is frequent, and businesses require customers to ring a buzzer to enter.

The GNG heard many concerns while collecting signatures for a petition against the Riverside Mission location, she said. One family said it wanted to leave Moose Jaw because their home was adjacent to a drug den where a murder occurred.

Ross argued that if city officials believe providing shelter and sandwiches to people is the solution to the community’s problems, that plan should be revisited since more wraparound supports are needed.

She added that the city cannot ignore the fact that almost 2,000 residents signed a petition wanting the city to hold a public meeting, while those people deserve to have their voices heard.

Showing empathy

Resident Norma LaFonte said she engages with addicts and less fortunate people daily and believes their presence is bad for tourism because the “historic downtown” should be a safe place.

She didn’t think pushing charities or social services agencies to the edge of town was right but thought keeping the shelter downtown was inappropriate. Instead, the Old Union Hospital site could work since it wasn’t near businesses and wouldn’t affect their ability to earn revenue.

“It should not be so close that people are afraid to come to our community,” she remarked.

Residents may not have complained about the project in 2020, but everyone was locked down and unaware that it was happening, LaFonte said. Moreover, society today is much different than four years ago, as human feces are found on the library steps, banks close their vestibules at night and businesses lock their doors during the day.

LaFonte agreed that the petition should have failed because it didn’t follow proper procedures and that council should ignore it, but “morally, hell no, you need to listen to the people who live here.”

Negative changes

Patty Yuzek has lived here for decades and has seen many changes, but recent changes are concerning and scary. She noted that there are more break-ins, thefts, stabbings, trails of blood on sidewalks and assaults with weapons — something she experienced downtown attempting to help a woman fleeing her partner.

“After surviving the (Stadacona Street) apartment for years, I thought things would get better (after it was shuttered). The first few months, I felt safer,” she continued. “It felt safer to walk in the neighbourhood. But that was short-lived.”

She was surprised and shocked when Willow Lodge opened on Ominica Street West since she and her neighbours were never notified about its opening. Meanwhile, she now wonders from where these addicts and less fortunate people come and why they’re choosing Moose Jaw.

“Every day, it seems to get worse. The citizens of Moose Jaw are frustrated and scared … ,” Yuzek said. “Friends say they won’t come back because they don’t feel safe walking downtown.

Yuzek added that council would likely take more seriously the concerns of residents in Sunningdale or VLA Gate if they complained about a homeless shelter in their area.

The Express will feature another article with council’s comments on this issue.

The next regular council meeting is Monday, July 22.

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