Emerald Centre nears completion

Eleven longer-term residences on the top floor remain vacant

While Emerald Centre's 35 shelter beds have been full or close to it for months, the 11 longer-term residences on the top floor are still vacant.

Security equipment and a wheelchair lift are not yet installed to finish off that area, said Doug Sage, executive director of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association that oversees the building.

Sage said Thursday the top floor isn't part of the shelter but is single occupancy housing. With those units located above the women's shelter beds, security is paramount, he said.

"The entrance for that is through the women's shelter, regardless of whether they're male or female," he said.

"We can't have the upstairs occupied until all of that is remedied."

Sage said he's not willing to compromise women's security and safety to in order to speed up putting residents in those 11 units. And they would not be shelter for people on the street, anyway, but instead will be for those who can't afford market rentals.

"It can't be just anybody living in an unsupervised place above a women's shelter. We made a commitment to the neighbourhood we would manage a quiet, safe building."

The shelter side's 12 beds for women and 35 for men are almost always full, he said.

Staff were wondering if women would go to the building, as it used to be a notorious strip club and also because it's now co-ed, although the two shelter sides on the main floor are securely separated.

"Our security system is very sophisticated. It had some serious glitches and we weren't interested in putting people upstairs until that was resolved. We've had issues with locks and door closers. These are issues in all renovations," he said.

"We want to do it right the first time and not make mistakes or potentially hurt people. And we want to be respectful of our neighbours and the neighbourhood."

The shelter areas - known as Emerald House on the women's side and Emerald Hostel on the men's - have even been overfull at times, said Sage.

"We do frequently run over occupancy. This is traditionally the slowest time of the year. But it's been full and hasn't abated," he said.

But the units upstairs have never been for shelter and they won't be, he added.

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