The imminent closure of three Vancouver shelters drew criticism from some housing advocates today (April 25), just as the B.C. government announced a two-month reprieve for a downtown shelter that was slated to close at the end of the week.
Provincial funding for five temporary shelters was scheduled to end this month. One shelter on West 4th Ave closed down last week, and three facilities will shut their doors by Friday.
The 40-bed New Fountain HEAT shelter on Cordova Street, which opened in December 2008, has been granted a two-month funding extension.
Mark Townsend, the executive director of the Portland Hotel Society, which operates the facility, said while he’s glad New Fountain funding was extended, he predicted the need for shelter isn’t likely to change in two months.
“There’s new housing coming online, but is it new housing that’s suitable for the people that are in need of shelters, and obviously it’s not,” said Townsend.
“If you’ve got 100 units but you’ve got 500 human beings after them, the people that we’re dealing with tend not to get invited to stay.”
According to a news release issued today by B.C. Housing, three new buildings will be complete with 309 units within the next two months, including a 108-unit building on Abbott Street for women and children. The 80-unit Station Street development that opened recently is fully occupied, while an increase of 100 additional shelter beds and supportive housing units at the Union Gospel Mission facility was announced last week. Another two sites are under construction and will be completed by the end of the year.
Townsend said many New Fountain shelter users have specific supportive housing needs. He suggested a continuum of housing options are needed to include this group, such as providing a mental health worker that can check in once a day on tenants.
“It doesn’t have to be something really fancy, but that works really well, and it gives people a new chance to start at life,” said Townsend. “In a way all this stuff’s not rocket science, it just gets lost in the shuffle.”
Homeless advocates want to see funding renewed for the five emergency shelters that were scheduled to close this month.
Tristan Markle, a housing activist with Vancouver Action, criticized the yearly closure of emergency shelters.
“This happened last year and it happened two years ago, and the precarious nature of the funding is really not fair,” he said.
VanAct is part of a coalition of advocacy groups calling for the five facilities to be kept open. They estimate the closures will impact about 200 shelter residents.
The coalition will be holding a press conference outside the Cardero Shelter Tuesday. Markle said the group will be calling on the provincial government to stabilize funding for all the shelters, and to bring on enough housing to meet the current need.
Markle said residents of the temporary shelters include seniors, day labourers and people on disability.
Mark Smith, the executive director of RainCity Housing, the organization that operates the Cardero, Broadway/Fraser and Howe Street shelters, said there are still about 80 people without safe housing options between the three temporary facilities.
Smith noted the options being offered by the province to many shelters users have consisted of SRO units in the Downtown Eastside, which he said a lot of them have turned down.
“If what they’re being offered is a room in an SRO in the Downtown Eastside, they’d rather make do on the streets,” said Smith.
“We’re working with them and we’re trying to do the best we can, but there’ll probably be quite a few left that won’t have housing.”
Smith said there are a “real range” of users at the temporary shelters.
“There are a wide range of people that have experienced various challenges in their life and they are at this time homeless,” he said.
Smith said that while he would like to see the temporary shelters kept open, he would want the communities where they are located to be consulted first.
He noted that while shelters are an expensive solution, they still serve a vital service.
According to B.C. Housing, the cost to operate temporary shelters is about twice as much as permanent supportive housing.
“Shelters are Band-Aids, they’re expensive and they’re not what people need at the end of the day, but the truth of the matter also is that there isn’t enough housing for people in the community and probably never will be,” said Smith.
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