A public meeting about homelessness, addictions and future shelters will take place in the next 30 days after a heated debate among city councillors on Monday night in front of a packed house in council chambers. 

The city received a 200-page petition from the citizens of Moose Jaw asking for a public meeting to discuss the construction and future operation of Souls Harbour Rescue Mission at 212 and 218 River St. W. The petition was asking that the city and city council to consider rezoning the property to a contract zoning district for commercial purposes and not community services or supportive housing. It also asks that the city collaborate with Souls Harbour Rescue Mission to find an alternate location. 

Under the Cities Act, a petition can trigger a public meeting if five per cent of the population of the city signs the petition.  

The city clerk must determine if the petition is sufficient. This means excluding any petitioners: 

  • Whose signature is not witnessed. 
  • Whose signature appears on a page of the petition that does not have the same purpose statement that is contained on all the other pages of the petition. 
  • Whose printed name is not included or is incorrect. 
  • Whose street address or legal description of land is not included or is incorrect. 
  • If the date when the person signed the petition is not stated or is incomplete. 
  • Who signed the petition before the first date that the petition was signed. 

The most recent census shows that the City of Moose Jaw has a population of 33,665, meaning a minimum of 1,683 signatures would be needed. 

The petition presented to city council had 1,928 signatures before vetting. According to the petition, the first signature was collected on April 8, 2024, so no signatures before that date would be included. 

The city clerk found that 620 entries on the petition were non-compliant with the Cities Act and were excluded from the count to determine if the petition was sufficient. The breakdown of non-compliance included: 

  • 600 entries with incomplete dates, no dates or dates in the wrong year and in future months. 
  • One entry had no witness. 
  • There were four instances of duplicate entries, accounting for eight signatures. The duplicates were excluded from the count. 
  • Five addresses were incomplete, incorrect or not within the City of Moose Jaw. 
  • 10 entries had incomplete printed names, containing only a first or last name. In the Cities Act, the petition must include the last name and printed given name or initials of the petitioner. 

After removing the excluded signatures, there were 1,308 entries on the petition, falling short of the 1,683 signatures needed meaning the city clerk found the petition insufficient. 

Four speakers gave their pitch to city council including citizens Carolyn Ross, Norma Lafonte, Patti Yuzek and Souls Harbour Rescue Mission executive director Joe Miller. 

Norma LafonteNorma Lafonte addresses city council.

Ross was one of the citizens that presented the petition. She said the shelter will not fix the city homelessness issue in Moose Jaw. 

"If the shelter and a meal is the city’s solution to the concerns of the community, I would encourage you to revisit that plan,” she told city council. 

“We don’t have enough services and resources for the members of our own community, and we now have people coming from other locations and communities.” 

In response, Miller said Riverside Mission has won awards from the Moose Jaw and District Chamber of Commerce and the Moose Jaw Police Service for their community work. That being said, Miller says the building is 100 years old and it is only a matter of time before it is closed down. 

Miller agreed that the initial vision was to have addiction services within the new facility, but Souls Harbour was forced to downscale the project due to lack of funding. He added that extra meetings and rezonings would mean delays, which in turn would mean added costs for Souls Harbour Rescue Mission.  

"At this point, Souls Harbour Rescue Mission has invested over half a million dollars into this new facility. If this project is further delayed, there exists the very strong possibility that we will simply withdraw our services from the community,” Miler told city council. 

“The new building plans will not only be cancelled, but the existing services that Riverside Mission currently offers will stop.” 

The meeting started to get heated as city council debated on whether to accept the petition and hold a public meeting. Mayor Clive Tolley put forward a motion to hold a public meeting in regard to the location and operation of the Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, which was soundly defeated. 

Tolley said, regardless of the requirements of the Cities Act, nearly 2000 people took the time and signed the petition and a discussion needs to take place so those voices are heard. He also noted that with the Moose Jaw Events Centre and a hotel development in the works and the shelter’s location is relevant to the redevelopment of River Street. 

"That’s why I’m thinking we need to talk and we need to bring all the people together and especially the provincial and ministerial representatives who have some clout. Let’s get everybody together and let’s hear what people have to say and let’s see if we can come up with a plan so we can redevelop River Street and we can also have the necessary facilities for the unhoused and people that need treatment,” Tolley said. 

Coun. Dawn Luhning said that the development fits within the bylaw and the city has to adhere to the Cities Act and work within that box and if the city loses the services of Riverside Mission it will cause an even worse situation. 

Coun. Heather Eby said the city must tread carefully because it doesn't have the funding to run a shelter and chasing Souls Harbour out of Moose Jaw is not a win for anyone and the mission is part of the solution. She said what bothered her the most about the petition is that the group wants the land rezoned. Legally, she said the city can't rezone it just because the city wants to or to keep an organization from building there.  

"I don’t want a motorcycle shop in my backyard, so let’s rezone that property. We can’t do that. We can’t rezone it. If a proponent comes forward and says hey, I have an idea, can we rezone that? Then we can do it if the City of Moose Jaw owns the land,” Eby said. 

Coun. Crystal Froese agreed that the city has to follow the Cities Act and can't simply change the location and make Souls Harbour move. She said, if there is a meeting, it should look at the bigger picture with those who can advocate such as MLAs and the provincial government. 

"I’m frustrated by this as I’m sure everybody is. We’ve seen a change in our community, but I think we absolutely have to work together and we have to approach this on a bigger scale,” she said. 

Coun. Jamey Logan said his colleagues made valid points and he thought the location, which was voted on in 2020, was a great idea but times have changed. However, he said it fulfills the requirements and not much can be done at this point in regard to the location.  

“When it comes right down to it, there’s not a darn thing we can do,” he said.  

Following the defeat of Tolley's motion, Coun. Doug Blanc brought forward a motion that passed that the city hold a public meeting to discuss future locations for shelters in Moose Jaw, homelessness, addictions and public safety.