Moose Jaw City Council put the wheels in motion on Monday night to convert part of William Milne Place, the historic firehall building, into a warming centre and women's emergency shelter for the homeless. 

Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing and Square One Community Inc. informed the city of their intentions to use the space as transition housing with an after-hours drop-in centre, women's shelter and supportive housing all under one roof. 

The apartment units are owned by Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing Corporation as low-cost housing for the homeless. The city leased 13 per cent of the building and it was subleased to Global Direct Realty.

The current use came up in 1988 when city council agreed to enter into a development agreement with Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to create housing for homeless elderly men. The development agreement was assigned to the Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing Corporation on Nov. 3, 1989. The housing units officially opened on Aug. 10, 1990. 

"This non-profit organization has run it successfully since 1989 and provided housing for the unhoused. So, this is simply adding another service to that building and I think it's the best place for it to be. They've proven they can manage the facility and they've proven that they can look after the building," said Mayor Clive Tolley. 

While providing housing for the homeless is not supposed to be a municipal issue, the situation has made it a city issue according to city manager Jim Puffalt. 

"The city has become involved. Our facilities are being used as warming centres, the Moose Jaw Police Service lobby is the area of last resort, and so the city is becoming involved just because of the great need in the community," he said. 

Coun. Crystal Froese noted that William Milne Place will remain a Heritage property and any renovations will still need approval from the Heritage Advisory Committee and city council. 

In order to enter into a new agreement with Square One and the Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing Corporation, city council agreed to mutually terminate the current lease agreement with Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing for the 13 per cent that was leased to the city and, subsequently subleased. 

Instead of terminating the sublease, city council voted to assign the sublease to Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing. Because of how complicated the agreement is going to be, councillors Heather Eby and Dawn Luhning voted against the motions. 

"Because this is all so complicated with this lease and sublease and then we're just going to try to smooth it over, I don't know. I think we're opening a can of worms that might not come out for a while, but I think it's there," Eby said. 

Coun. Jamey Logan was in favour because the sublease was simply going to be transferred over to Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing. 

"If they decide to give notice, it's up to them to give the proper notice that they would require for the tenant. I don't know why the city has this lease, to begin with. We're in the business of collecting taxes and selling water," he said. 

The city also had a lease with Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing for parking spaces at the back of the building that the city is terminating so that the housing corporation can take sole possession of the parking spaces. 

The city will keep the option to reacquire the building if it is not used as a warming centre. The final agreement between the city and Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing regarding the use of the building is still being worked out and is expected to come before city council at their next meeting on March 13.