Having heard input from representatives speaking on behalf of Scott Drader, Greater Napanee council opted to defer any decision on Stepping Stone Shelter for the Homeless until town staff reports back to them.
Staff is expected to get back to council at a future meeting on what to do with Drader’s Dairy Ave. property. According to Drader, trailer homes in his yard are currently occupied by 13 people. The trailers, which have no water or sewage attached to them, are in violation of the town’s zoning by-law. The town has also raised issues of health, safety and liability with the trailers.
Ontario Libertarian Party leader Keith Komar travelled from Algoma to speak for Drader at Tuesday’s meeting.
“He’s a gentleman and a kind soul,” Komar said of Drader. “He’s taking time out of his life to help his community from a very sad situation. The Town of Napanee has over 120 homeless people and single-handedly Scott is providing shelter for more than 10 per cent of them.”
Komar asked for the town to grant a stay for Drader until at least April 1, until a more permanent set-up for the residents on the property can be established. He presented council with a petition containing 1,500 signatures in support for Drader from across Canada and the U.S. Komar noted Drader’s set up has been inspected by the fire chief, which he says was deemed safe. Though the trailers have no water, he said Drader grants access to his main home for his tenants to use the bathroom.
“I would ask you as to what is a greater health risk, being at the trailer park where Scott has a roof over his their heads? Or to sleep on the streets?,” Komar asked rhetorically to council.
Earlier this month the town presented Drader with a third letter in the last year and a half notifying him he was in violation of a zoning by-law. The latest letter gave him a deadline of Nov. 25 to remove the trailers or the town would begin the process of having them removed at his cost. Around this time last year Drader did comply with the by-law and had the trailers removed on his own. In late October of this year they were returned to his lot, which is just under nine acres shy of the 10 acres required to be zoned as a trailer park.
“I don’t think there’s one person sitting in this room tonight that doesn’t think (Drader is) trying to do the right thing,” said councillor Dave Pinnell Jr. “It’s just that you’re doing it the wrong way. You have an order, I’m not happy with the defiance that has been done through you. Here we are at the start of winter worried about people being out in the cold. This could have been taken care of earlier.”
Greater Napanee mayor Marg Isbester excused herself from Tuesday’s discussion citing a conflict of interest-members of her family own the land around Drader’s lot. She did however meet with a group of about 10 protestors who showed up outside of town hall Monday carrying signs of support for Drader.
Though members of the group at times refused to let Isbester answer any questions by speaking over her, the mayor was willing to at least listen to the concerns. The protestors called for the town to leave Stepping Stone alone and to allow for tiny homes to be placed on the property.
“A shelter is what we need,” said Isbester outside of town hall on Monday. “There’s no getting around it. There needs to be a shelter, but a shelter with services. A shelter with mental health and addictions, teaching people how to be good tenants. Teaching landlords how to be good landlords.”
In her place, deputy mayor Max Kaiser ran Tuesday’s discussion in the council chambers.
“We’re not in the business nor is it our mandate to provide housing,” said Kaiser before making the suggestion any decision on the issue be paused until town staff got back to them. “We are in the business of advocating for our citizens at other levels of government…That we have done. We’re also making changes to our policy internally that may help to alleviate this in the future. They’re underway. We haven’t been sitting idle.”
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Drader told the Beaver he is urging the town to grant a minor variance, which he says would mean if he were to ever sell his property it would revert back to its previous zoning by-law regulations.
“If they allow the zoning change for that, I can go with tiny homes,” said Drader. “It’ll look neater. I have corporate sponsors that are willing to do this. I’ve got corporate sponsors just sitting here waiting for me to get approved. It’s not like it’s going to cost the town any money.”
Since opening the trailer park, Drader says he’s helped 75 homeless people find affordable housing and jobs.
“It’s not a permanent situation,” Drader said of his tenants. “This is basically we set them up for three or four months to find affordable housing. It might not be in Napanee, it might be in Kingston or Belleville. But it gives them time to get cleaned up and save up (money).”