Vancouver homeless shelters move toward securing permanent space

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Operators of a Vancouver homeless shelter say they’re closer to securing a permanent space for the 52 beds they operate for women and children.

Vancouver city council approved a grant of $500,000 Wednesday (July 25) for the St. James Community Service Society towards the renovation and expansion of their Powell Place shelter in the Downtown Eastside, as well as a lease extension for the land the shelter is located on.

Trudi Shymka, the director of services for women and children’s programs with the society, hopes the grant, along with over $2 million in funding recently allocated by B.C. Housing, will act as leverage as they apply for federal funding for the $4.1-million project.

Powell Place is currently located at a temporary, converted warehouse space on Powell Street. The renovation and expansion of the original shelter space will allow for a permanent building to accommodate the 52 beds for women and children that the society operates.

“That commitment for us [means] really, we know this is going to happen now,” Shymka told the Straight by phone.

“For us, this is so important that it’s targeted for women-only services, because women are the most vulnerable in the homeless population,” she added.

City council also approved a grant of up to $100,000 Wednesday (July 25) to the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society toward preliminary design work for a potential social service centre and homeless shelter on city-owned land at 946 and 950 Main Street.

The development is still contingent on funding from senior levels of government, but Patrick Stewart, the chair of Metro Vancouver’s Aboriginal Homeless Steering Committee, indicated the city’s approval of the Main Street site paves the way for a permanent shelter space.

Funding for a temporary HEAT shelter currently operated by the VAFCS at 201 Central Street is scheduled to end in March 2013. The society is in discussion with B.C. Housing to secure funding beyond the current contract, and to transport the operating funding from the temporary space to the permanent location on Main Street.

Stewart said the organization is also hoping to see the integration of long-term housing as part of the permanent centre. The 201 Central shelter consists of 100 sleeping mats, including 10 for aboriginal women.

“Of those 100, I think we have 10 specific women spots, which isn’t enough,” he told the Straight.

“And so what we’re trying to do with the new location is try to integrate long-term housing as well, and some family units. Because right now when a family comes to the shelter, they have to be referred, and that’s not a good thing…Right now it’s just a big open room where people sleep on mats.”

Aboriginal people currently represent 2 percent of the total population in Vancouver, compared to nearly one-third of the homeless population.

As part of a series of recommendations approved Wednesday, city council also urged the province to work with its partners to maintain and increase the shelter capacity for urban aboriginal youth and other specialized populations, including women and youth in Vancouver.

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