Emergency homeless shelters prompt calls for housing solutions in Vancouver

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      The B.C. government announced today (November 23) new funding for emergency homeless shelters in Vancouver, just as frigid temperatures placed increased demand on programs aiding those in need of a place to escape the cold.

      Four temporary shelters are slated to open by early December, and will accommodate about 160 people, according to the Ministry of Public Safety.

      The province will provide up to $1.5 million, while the City of Vancouver is contributing $500,000 toward the operation of the buildings.

      Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang told the Straight by phone the temporary shelters will be open 24 hours a day. They will be pet-friendly and will provide food and a safe place to store belongings.

      The province currently funds 658 permanent shelter spaces in Vancouver, and there are approximately 340 spaces available in Vancouver’s HEAT shelters established last winter.

      Extra shelter spaces have been added around the city after several days of cold temperatures, including up to 272 spots through the Extreme Weather Response Program.

      Irene Jaakson, the coordinator of the program, said at this point there are enough spaces to meet the demand. However, she’s concerned that the cold winter expected to hit Vancouver will place pressure on shelter programs.

      “A couple of years ago, when the weather was really, really harsh...there were about 45 or 50 extreme weather alerts called and staff and volunteers were exhausted,” Jaakson told the Straight by phone.

      Jaakson said broader questions need to be asked, such as why there is such high demand for shelter.

      “I think that rather than spending so much time talking about whether we’ll have enough space for a crisis response, we need to be putting that energy into having a conversation about why is it that people don’t have places that they can afford to live,” she said.

      “We can’t keep debating a crisis response. We need to put that energy into the entire continuum of housing, of which safe, accessible shelter is one part.”

      Downtown Eastside housing advocate Wendy Pedersen said there is a need for permanent housing solutions, and she wants to see welfare payments and the minimum wage increased. She said cold winter conditions are a health and safety concern for the homeless.

      “People get sicker, and they take chances with sleeping with people that they shouldn’t sleep with—women are more in danger,” she told the Straight by phone. “And shelters aren’t adequate homes.”

      Coun. Jang said the temporary shelters are a “Band-Aid solution”.

      “They’re only here to deal with an immediate crisis,” he said. “They are not meant to be a solution, and the only solution is permanent housing.”

      Six of 14 planned social-housing sites are currently under construction in Vancouver, Jang said.

      Shelter spaces under the Extreme Weather Response Program typically open up when temperatures fall below -2 °C, or in conditions like freezing rain, high winds, and snow accumulation.

      Under the program, outreach workers are also sent out to check on homeless people in downtown parks and to distribute information on extreme weather shelters.

      Jodyne Keller, the homeless coordinator for the Vancouver police, told the Straight by phone that officers have been patrolling the city for homeless people during the cold temperatures, handing out blankets, and providing information on where to find shelter.



      Sid Tan

      Nov 23, 2010 at 5:27pm

      Why isn't Olympic Village an option for temporary shelter? Many of the condos are empty and owned by Vancouver taxpayers. Am I the only one to see the absurd in this in this. Mats are not beds. Temporary beds are not housing. Empty space is a waste...


      Nov 23, 2010 at 6:46pm

      For less than $10K a unit the city can buy portable trailers which can house a family of 5 in comfort. I've lived in them.

      No snob appeal I guess.



      Nov 23, 2010 at 7:09pm

      These people need to be housed, for sure; institutionalized in a central facility, maybe in Hope or Prince George. Such an institution would include detox and job training. We need the authority to remove these people from the streets.
      Ours streets, boulevards, and parks are NOT for accommodation.
      Know why you don't see homeless in Paris? They ship 'em OUT!
      We should NOT subsidize folks to live in an area they can not afford.


      Nov 23, 2010 at 7:29pm

      Or better yet, for less than $10K a unit the province can buy portable trailers which can house a family of 5 in comfort.


      Nov 23, 2010 at 7:37pm

      anyone know where these 4 temporary shelters are going to be, and why they havent made the information public?

      David Beattie

      Nov 23, 2010 at 8:37pm

      About a year ago I think there were three presentations made to city council by companies involved in "container" housing. For $72,000 a unit the city could have had perfectly adequate medium-term housing, even long-term.

      Council asked Housing Minister Rich Coleman to check it out and get back to them, as the city was seriously considering it. Response? Nothing, more than a year later.

      Average price of the units at the six sites now under construction, according to The Tyee? $375,000 per unit.

      In any sensible jurisdiction Coleman would be in deep trouble for his absolute fecklessness. Instead he was reinstated in the recent cabinet shuffle and promoted to Solicitor-General again.

      And still the big papers say nothing about it. This whole issue is a fiasco. It is not just city council and the provincial government - the citizenry itself is so self-absorbed and bigoted about homeless that this neoliberal government can get away with this unscathed.

      Have you seen anything in the media about the NDP going after them for this heinous failure? Of course not - Carole James is too busy wooing the business elite. A pox on both their houses.

      Gregor spent the shelter money.

      Nov 23, 2010 at 9:40pm

      There was $3 million dollars in the kitty for shelters. Gregor went and spent all of it on the Hornby bike lane. This is why the Province is now bailing us out. Sad state of affairs in Vancouver.


      Nov 23, 2010 at 11:03pm

      @ David Beattie - Lets see, you slam the city, the province, the media, the NDP leader and the entire citizenry of the province because they haven't latched on to your solution to end homelessness.

      Ever think it might just be a bad idea? Just a thought.

      it is obvious

      Nov 23, 2010 at 11:12pm

      Let's do it!
      Get on track to get city wide appeal and appetite, Olympic Village is PERFECT!

      Think of the spin they could use on this, a broke ass legacy project. Compassion prevails?
      That'd be nice:)


      Nov 23, 2010 at 11:36pm

      You recommend Hope for detox and job training??? You have obviously not been to Hope recently... unless you are a crooked hockey ref, there's no jobs there, and nothing to do but get drunk.