Housing advocates are planning to set up tent cities outside three homeless shelters that are scheduled to close their doors this week.
At a press conference in front of a shelter on Cardero Street today (April 26), representatives of a coalition of housing advocacy groups said they plan to set up tents at the shelter by 11 a.m. Wednesday if funding isn’t renewed for the temporary facility.
Advocates and shelter users plan to stage similar protests at temporary facilities on Howe Street and Broadway and Fraser later this week.
The three shelters are scheduled to close at the end of April. But housing advocates say they want to see the facilities kept open until enough long-term housing is in place.
“We’re absolutely mortified that we have to keep fighting for these shelters to stay open every year,” Carnegie Community Action Project coordinator Wendy Pedersen told reporters.
“Premier Clark needs to show us that she’s in charge, and she needs to get funding for these shelters within 24 hours, or people living here and living in the other three shelters closing in the next couple of days will be on the street.”
Pedersen said the five temporary shelters that were slated for closure at the end of this month housed about 200 people. One temporary shelter in Kitsilano closed last week. The New Fountain HEAT shelter, which opened in December 2008, has been granted a funding extension until June.
Cardero Shelter tenant Chase McCabe said he wants to see the facility kept open year-round.
McCabe, who has stayed at the shelter since it opened in November, said he’d rather live on the street than in an SRO room in the Downtown Eastside.
He said theft and violence in shelters is common, but he has felt safe at the Cardero facility.
The 50-year-old said he stayed in an SRO for eight months, but it was “more drug-filled than a street corner”.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said shelter users have been offered other housing options that aren’t in the Downtown Eastside.
“There’s B.C. Housing facilities across the city, so many have been offered places elsewhere,” he told the Straight by phone.
Jang noted the four temporary shelters were opened with the agreement that they would close on April 30.
“I think it’s important to remember that it was made very clear to the shelter operators and the users that in particular the four winter response shelters were to close on April 30th, because that was the agreement with the neighbourhoods,” he said.
According to a statement released by B.C. Housing today, about 75 tenants remain at the three shelters that are closing this week. Of those tenants, 30 have accepted housing offers, 20 have declined housing assistance and housing offers are pending for 15. Outreach workers are searching for housing options for the remaining 10, according to the ministry.
The coalition of groups supporting the call to keep the shelters open includes Pivot Legal Society and the Council of Senior Citizens of B.C. (COSCO).
COSCO’s chair of housing Gail Harmer said the occupants of the shelter have been building a sense of community.
“For many of our homeless brothers and sisters, this is a very special shelter style,” said Harmer. “It’s the first step in a hands-up towards stabilization”¦To many others, it’s just a safe warm place to come and go almost any time in 24 hours.”
Pivot Legal Society lawyer Doug King said shelter tenants are in need of long-term stability.
“It’s not just about numbers, it’s not about moving from one shelter to another, it’s about having a home, it’s about having a community, and when the city takes down places like this, they’re taking down a whole community,” he said.
You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.