It was with great disappointment when I read this in the October 22 issue of the Daily Herald Tribune “Itwas a blow that hit HIV North like a hammer Tuesday when the City ofGrande Prairie's community growth committee unanimously denied theorganization's application for a discretionary use development permitto redesignate its office as a community outreach facility”. Just the previous Thursday I had been to their Grand Opening and was very impressed with the space and how it was set-up. So I read more. And my disappointment grew.
I note in the article that city administration, the RCMP, CMHA and AHS all support the application and that the Downtown Business Association has no objection. I realize that we now live in a culture where the voice of experts is sometimes seen as suspect, but I think we need to listen to those with a deeper understanding of the needs of the community. I also note that (in what I think is a very good thing) the new office is in close proximity to the Downtown and to the Salvation Army Outreach Centre. In fact I would suggest that this is an ideal location for the office as some of the clients served by HIV North would also be served by the Salvation Army.
And to be honest I find the arguments against the location far from convincing. I find it hard to believe that in the short time this office has been open there has been that dramatic an increase in loitering and criminal activity in the area. After all the Bear Creek valley is just across the road and, as already noted, that Salvation Army was already in the local area.
Here at St. Paul's we have been partnering with HIV North for several years now, offering our space to host some of their programming. In that time I would not say that we have had any greater issues with loitering or criminal activity. In fact their presence has added to the list of resources to which we can refer individuals who appear at our door.
I suggest that the people are not there because the agency is there. The agency is there because that is where the people are. And which is better, to have people needing support in your area and the support several blocks away or to have people needing support and the support just around the corner?
These services need to be offered somewhere. No matter where there will be some neighbours (residential or commercial) who are uncomfortable with having an agency associated with HIV close to them. That is a fact. But the question I want to ask is one of the greater good. Is the greater good served by granting this request? I believe it is. I would agree with the editorial by Diana Rinne (also in the October 22 issue of the DHT) who lays out a strong and cogent argument in favour of this location. I hope people read Diana's words and take them into consideration.
I urge council to overturn the decision of the community growth committee.
Rev Gord Waldie