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WCSS prepares for loss of Shoestring Lodge

Municipal grant would fund temporary shelter for clients this fall



Social service workers in Whistler are concerned that seasonal employees are going to have even tougher times finding a place to stay in the resort next fall.

Their concern stems from the potential loss of the Shoestring Lodge, one of the cheapest deals in town and also a place which welcomes social service clients struggling to make a go of their lives in Whistler when other places won't accept them.

"It is a real concern to us because if it is gone by the time the fall comes then we're going to have some real difficulty trying to place people," said Janet McDonald, executive director with Whistler Community Services Society.

Frontline Youth Outreach Worker Greg McDonnell echoed those concerns. He said the Shoestring, through the WCSS, housed roughly 30 people last year from late October to mid-December. When the 46-bed lodge was full, sometimes they were forced to send their clients to Squamish or even as far away as North Vancouver.

"If we lose the availability of those spaces (at the Shoestring) we're going to be greatly impacted by finding our emergency housing clients a place to stay," he said.

"It really puts us at significant risk of not being able to help these people."

Cressey Development Corporation has been actively working on a residential subdivision application for the six-acre Shoestring Lodge/Boot Pub site close to the village. As proposed the site will hold market townhomes as well as employee housing.

A revised application should be coming before council next month. Barring complications, Cressey hopes to be through the municipal development approval process by the end of the summer.

Seeing the writing on the wall, WCSS applied to the municipality for a $17,000 grant, through the Community Enrichment Program (formerly the grant-in-aid program), which would allow them to have a temporary shelter for clients in need.

McDonnell said that even without the loss of the Shoestring, they know it's going to be a tough year to help people.

"Even if the Shoestring is not gone (this fall), we know there's going to be problems based on our stats," he said.

Every year, the WCSS helps newcomers who descend on Whistler in the fall looking for work. Some of their clients need more help than others. Some may suffer from depression, others may have drug and alcohol problems.

Without a doubt, there is always a handful of people who come to Whistler each fall completely unprepared for the housing challenges in the resort.

"What we have run into, particularly more and more as time goes on, is in the fall we have a number of people coming into town who are not necessarily prepared for what they're up against in terms of housing in Whistler," said McDonald.

This situation is exacerbated if the season doesn't get off to an early start, as has happened in the past two years.

McDonald explained that the WCSS is looking to rent out a hostel or a bed and breakfast for a six-week period in the fall. They would need between 10 to 20 beds.

It wouldn't be just a shelter, she said. There would be a program built around it to help clients find jobs and get settled in the community.

"We're not interested in folks that are just in for a free ride for six weeks," she said. "We're interested in helping people that are serious about trying to become community members, whether it be just for a season or for longer term."

Council got their first look at Cressey's plans last August. They sent them back to the drawing board after raising a number of concerns.

Cressey has since modified its proposal. Rather than providing employee housing rental apartment units, they plan to build 36 employee townhouses in three different buildings.

The development will also include 36 market townhomes and a commercial building.

Cressey's Development Manager David Evans said if the permitting is done by the end of the summer, the affordable housing could be ready by spring 2007.

Council will make their decision about the WCSS grant application, along with other grant applications, at the regular meeting on Monday, April 4.