First United shelter in Downtown Eastside to stay open another year at reduced capacity
A provincial funding extension will see the First United homeless shelter in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside keep its doors open for the next year at a reduced capacity.
The B.C. government announced up to $1 million in funding today (July 6) for the facility to remain open for another 12 months beyond its scheduled closure at the end of July.
Stephen Gray, the acting executive director at First United, said the facility will operate as a smaller-scale co-ed shelter of about 50 to 60 beds.
“We’re putting together the plan to be able to operate a shelter within the limitations of that contract, and we’re quite happy that we can do that and provide a smaller, more focused, more intentional kind of shelter program,” Gray told the Straight by phone.
First United opened as a low-barrier, temporary HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) shelter in December 2008.
Gray said they have been gradually reducing the shelter’s capacity in anticipation of its closure, which was originally scheduled to be at the end of March 2012, before the government granted a four-month extension. The facility, which previously had 200 beds, is currently accommodating 75 people a night.
“This scale is much more sustainable and manageable and it’s more in line with what we always thought we could do well,” he stated. “I think we did as well as we could with the larger numbers, but it’s of course much more challenging with such a large number of people in a building that isn’t really designed for that purpose.”
According to a statement from B.C. Housing issued today, the funding extension is intended to allow extra time for shelter clients to be connected with supportive housing.
Gray said as of the end of June, the shelter was turning away about nine people a night, as well as referring some people to other shelters.
B.C. Housing has provided additional staff in the building between now and the end of July to assist with finding housing for people, he noted. Between June 2011 and May 2012, housing arrangements were made for 234 First United shelter users, according to statistics from the Carnegie Outreach Program.
Gray noted the facility has "some flexibility" with its new contract to ensure that arrangements are made for current shelter users.
“If we have 65 people here on August 1st, we’re not going to put them on the street, " he said. "We’ll continue to work with them until we get the numbers down to where we want to be. Clearly there will be a plan for everyone.”