The owners of a problem residential building in the downtown admit there have been issues with gangs and drugs, but insist they’re working to address them.
City council has voted to start proceedings that could lead to the demolition of 925 Central Ave. It is owned by the Full Gospel Outreach Centre. The building has prompted hundreds of calls for police and by-law officers over the years. There are concerns about public safety, and local businesses see the site as an eyesore and hindrance to attracting shoppers to the downtown.
“Demolishing is not the answer to a building where you’re having problems,” Vern Temple, the pastor at the Full Gospel Outreach Centre told paNOW. “I’ve been working on the gang problems, drug-dealing and stealing and issues that go with that. I’ve been doing evictions and each time I do that it improves the situation.”
Temple said the building currently accommodates about 40 poor and marginalized people in 15 units. Six other units are not fit for occupation, although he said they require only “a few days work” to make ready. Some of the windows at ground level are boarded up.
The units rent for $500 to $600 per month and the centre also hosts worship gatherings four times a week that attract many visitors.
He understands the city needs to act on complaints and concerns, but the Gospel Centre has work to do to help those in need.
“From our perspective we have a ministry and we’re trying to rescue people from their lifestyle,” he said. “They come to us from all sorts of crazy backgrounds. We’re trying to help them spiritually, physically and emotionally.”
Temple said there has been an economic downturn in the city and people are in need. He admitted the Gospel Centre may have contributed to some of the crime in the downtown, but added it’s not only them.
“These people are already here,” he said. “They’re here for the bus system, the social services, parole and probation offices, drug stores which brings about drug dealing, and all the services and agencies these people need.”
He's dealt with authorities to address problems as they arise.
“I’ve been working actively on the problem. I’ve worked with police, fire and the city to deal with the gangs and drug-dealers, and we are putting more outreach workers onto the street,” he said.
Temple said he has recently gone into a partnership with Brian LeBlanc of House of the Potter Ministries, who runs an organization next door on Central Ave. He said the work with LeBlanc would be part of their increased street outreach efforts which would hopefully address any criminal activity.
The city has inspected his building and told Temple he needs to ensure all smoke alarms, fire alarms and fire doors are up to code. He said he's committed to addressing the issues.
“We realize that the city needs things to be done and we’re working on it," he said. "But if the city moves towards demolition, we’d just board up the windows and apartments.”
Temple said the apartments are home to people who need the affordable space and enjoy the generosity of other residents.
“I’ve got dozens of residents who love it here. They see what we’re doing [to help] and they don’t feel threatened by the gangs. They walk the hallways and feel comfortable here.”
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