Home for low-income men could be closed

The residents of Champion’s Centre could lose their home.

PONOKA — The residents of Champion’s Centre could lose their home.

The Public Health Appeal Board will decide whether the eviction to all 13 Champion’s Centre residents will be reversed. The centre — with room for up to 14 men at a time — has been home to 40 men, all low-income residents or individuals with mental health problems, since 2002.

Klass Klooster, building owner and executive director of the centre, attended the hearing on Thursday and said the eviction for fire safety hazards handed out Aug. 31 by Alberta Health services was a surprise.

“The building was inspected thoroughly when it was originally to be opened as a rooming house in 2002,” Klooster said. “The building is safe — why is it all of a sudden deemed dangerous?”

The two-week eviction notice was delivered after a complaint from Alberta Senior Housing and Support was investigated.

The complaint refers to concerns about rooms in the centre without windows, by law a fire hazard because there is no place for escape.

“Although we recognize the residents’ need for this facility, and all the work the centre does for these people, the fact still remains it is a fire hazard and a dangerous environment,” said Kevin McLeod, superintendant of environmental public health. “It’s the law — if a fire occurs it could be a serious situation.”

In 2002, inspections from the fire department and public health services deemed the building safe. Various safety checks since then have never said there was a safety problem — until last month.

When the eviction notice was first delivered, the deadline was mid-September.

The centre informed public health officials that to install new window, the notice would have to be extended. It was pushed to Oct. 1.

Alberta Health proposed a sprinkler system being installed instead, but that would cost about $90,000. The centre can’t afford it. Klooster said funding from the government is possible and would cover up to 50 per cent of the cost, but the application will take more time than the centre has.

Resident Lloyd McKay, who filed his own appeal, stated in a document that he has lived at the centre since it opened in 2002.

“I feel safe here,’ McKay wrote. “I don’t want to leave.”

“This centre isn’t temporary housing,” Jeff Hanger, assistant director of the centre, told the meeting. “We charge them rent, feed them, help with budgeting and medication distributions and we provide them with a family most of them no longer have — it’s permanent housing. We can’t just kick them out of here.”

Alberta Health told the centre and health appeal board that alternative housing would be supplied for the current residents when the eviction notice was up, if conditions weren’t met.

Although one senior’s care advisor said she could make space available for the residents to stay within two weeks, no alternative housing has been confirmed.

Some requirements include no smoking within the building, installing a fire alarm system that contacts the fire department — the previous alarm only alerted the building’s occupants — and continuous room checks, fire drills and escape plans must be maintained.

Since the eviction notice, the Champion’s Centre has scheduled evacuation and fire drills and provided the 13 men at the centre with education on fire extinguisher use. The centre installed a warning system on Wednesday that informs fire officials. Limited use of the basement lounge has also been enforced as that was deemed dangerous due to lack of windows.

“It’s for the health well-being of our tenants that we ask this board to reverse the order,” Klooster said.

If the board decides the centre is safe, residents can stay in their own rooms. If the building is considered unsafe, the centre will have to close down nine of the rooms and squeeze two residents into the other rooms — and change the lounge into a room. If the board decides the building is uninhabitable, the centre could be shut down.

None of the rooms has windows but they do have skylights. Six rooms would receive windows. The remaining rooms can’t since the building backs onto another building.

“It’s disheartening that officials went into the building knowing it would be a rooming house and cleared it with these standards,” said Sharon Cox, chair of the health appeal board. “These things should never get to this point.”

Because the centre has done work to the building to comply with Alberta Health Services, if windows were installed by Oct. 1, and all other conditions are being addressed when officials inspect the centre on Oct. 16, the eviction order could be withdrawn.

“Receiving a licence to operate as a rooming house would have never happened if it didn’t apply with standards,” Klooster said.

The board did not say when a decision would be made, but Cox said it would be soon.