By Jasmine Franklin
The residents of Champion’s Centre in Ponoka could be out on the streets.
The quasi-judicial Public Health Appeal Board (PHAB) will decide whether the eviction to all 13 Champion’s Centre residents will be reversed.
Klass Klooster, building owner and executive director of the Champion’s Centre, attended the hearing Sept. 17 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. Klooster approached the organization to determine where in the housing continuum Champion’s Centre fell. Alberta Senior Housing and Support visited the centre and the complaint was eventually filed.
The complaint refers to concerns about rooms within the centre that don’t contain windows — this is deemed by law a fire safety 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, surperintendant of environmental public health. “It’s the law — if a fire occurs it could be a serious situation.”
When Klooster was to open the building in 2002, following inspections from the fire department and public health services, the building was deemed safe. In continuation with various safety checks, the building has never been considered a safety problem — until last month.
When the eviction notice was originally delivered, the deadline was the middle of September. The centre informed public health officials that to install new windows in the required rooms, the notice would have to be extended, so the deadline was pushed to Oct. 1.
Alberta Health proposed the option to install a sprinkler system within the building, however, with costs of a new sprinkler system estimated at $94,600 the centre can’t afford it. Klooster said funding from the government is possible and would cover up to 50 per cent of the costs, 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 been a resident with the centre since its opening in 2002.
“I feel safe here,’ McKay wrote. “I don’t want to leave.”
In the last seven years, the Champion’s Centre — which has 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.
“This centre isn’t temporary housing,” said Jeff Hanger, assistant director of the centre, in 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 Champion’s Centre and PHAB that alternative housing would be supplied for the current residents when the eviction notice was up, if the building was not changed and standards didn’t comply with the requirements.
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 not the fire department — and continuous room checks, fire drills and escape plans must be maintained.
Since the eviction notice, the Champion’s Centre has complied with some of the Alberta Health requirements. They have scheduled evacuation and fire drills and provided the current 13 men at the centre with education on fire extinguisher usage.
The centre installed a fire warning system Sept. 16 that informs fire officials rather than only alarming the building. Limited usage 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.
The centre now has three routes it can take. If the PHAB decides the centre is safe, residents can stay in their own personal rooms. If the building is considered unsafe, the centre will have to close down nine of the rooms and squeeze two residents into each room, that will contain windows — and change the lounge into a room. If the board decides the building is uninhabitable Champion’s Centre could be shut down.
None of the rooms has windows, but they do contain skylights. Other than the six rooms that would receive windows, the remaining rooms would not be able to house residents since the building backs onto another building there are no options for window installations.
Sharon Cox, chair of the Public Health Appeal Board was disappointed that in Alberta Health’s misjudgment of the centre, and an environmental health official’s oversight to the discrepancies when it first opened.
“It’s disheartening that officials went into the building knowing it would be a rooming house and cleared it with these standards,” Cox said. “These things should never get to this point.”
Because the Champion’s 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 license 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 determined however, Cox said it would be soon.