Trevor Howell, Calgary Herald
A grassroots organization that has helped feed and clothe hundreds of Calgary’s homeless won’t face fines or require city permits after bureaucrats discovered the volunteers were hosting the events on private property.
The group, YYC Helping Homeless, has been gathering downtown to hand out donated winter clothing and homemade meals to the city’s homeless each Saturday for nearly five months.
Last weekend, city bylaw officers urged organizers to look into getting proper permits saying the event was being held on city property and to check in with Alberta Health Services because food was being served.
Organizers say they were subsequently told by the city to buy a $50.50 permit each time they held a potluck, dinners already paid for by volunteers.
The group has since received dozens of offers from strangers to help pay for the permit fees if another arrangement can’t be reached with the city. It has also raised hundreds of dollars through an online site, YouCaring.com.
But it now appears the group won’t need to purchase any permits from the city because officials have since learned the spot being used by the volunteers is managed by its subsidiary overseeing the development of the East Village, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.
“It’s managed by them so it’s seen more as private property as opposed to public property so they don’t have to go through us in booking a green space or anything like that,” said Jennifer De Vries.
The CMLC did not respond Friday to the Herald’s request for an interview.
Councillors say the city should not be a barrier for citizens trying to comfort and nourish some of Calgary’s most vulnerable or other noble ventures.
“If we have community groups that are willing to undertake activities like this it is incumbent on the City of Calgary to help facilitate that,” said Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley.
“We need to have rules and processes in place but if they become impediments and barriers to people wanting to help those who need help that is a problem,” Woolley said.
It’s not the first time good Samaritans have run afoul of city regulations.
In the mid-1990s, municipal mandarins prohibited an organization called Food Not Bombs — a then-well known outfit with affiliates across North America — to hand out free meals to hungry Calgarians at Olympic Plaza or in front of the municipal building.
City hall was later involved in a lengthy, and costly, legal battle with street preacher Artur Pawlowski, who delivered impassioned sermons to the homeless and drug dealers through an amplified sound system.
While the church no longer uses loudspeakers, its members continue to hand out food — and religious doctrine — to many living on the streets outside the municipal building.
Coun. Brian Pinott, recently appointed to the board of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, said the city should do everything it can to empower well-meaning groups before enforcing bylaws.
“Organizations like this one are … just out helping,” Pincott said. “We’ve got to find a way to facilitate people who are assisting rather than throwing up barriers. It’s as simple as that.”