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Gregor Robertson and Rain City Housing Provide More Shelters Despite Tight Timelines, Budget Cuts and Controversy

Mayor Gregor Robertson and Rain City Housing met with the press Tuesday morning to discuss Vancouver’s new winter shelters that will be open until April 2010. Locations include: Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, Downtown and the West End. When these shelters close, the city is planning to provide interim housing, which provides the next step towards permanent social housing. This entire process requires cross-disciplinary partnerships and support from the province.   

When Robertson spoke yesterday, his demeanor was serious and direct. His relentless commitment to end street homelessness by 2015 has not been watered down by harsh controversy and massive budget cuts. When a reporter asked whether residents could stop shelters from entering their area, Robertson unapologetically said, “No.”

We have been working within a short timeline and our priority is to ensure that we get shelters open, so that people don’t die on our streets.  We are responding to the coroner’s report on the death of a woman named Tracy in the West End. This report called for more shelters that are low barrier, so that people can bring their pets and belongings,” Robertson said.

The short timeline that council has been dealing with is a result of provincial budget cuts. Vancouver had to wait until mid-December for the province to provide 1.2 million for winter shelters. Prior to receiving this funding, Robertson partnered with over fifty different faith communities, in order to maximize the amount of winter shelters available.

The Granville Shelter

In response to the criticisms regarding the chaos that arose from the Granville shelter last year, Robertson explained that  lessons were learned. Those lessons can be applied to the present.

This year’s shelters will be open 24/7 and they will close in April. The majority of the problems surrounding the HEAT shelters occurred when shelters stayed open past April. There will also be a reservation system, which will eliminate line-ups outside the shelters.

The city also learned that when shelters provide two hot meals a day, rather than snacks, there was an 80% reduction in aggressive panhandling.

The Mount Pleasant Shelter

When I spoke with Bill Briscall from Rain City Housing, he said that the Mount Pleasant shelter has been well received by the surrounding community. “The businesses in the area have been supportive. I live in the area and I have always seen people sleeping in the local parks throughout the year.” Briscall said

There has been a large number of French-speaking homeless people occupying the shelter, due to the nearby Francophone drop-in centre called La Boussole. Briscall and his staff have provided French translations of the signs within the shelter.

Nearby service providers have sent younger homeless people to the Mount Pleasant shelter. A benefit of this has been the decrease in Crystal Meth abuse amongst younger homeless people in the area. “Meth is often used to stay awake at night, because it's safer to sleep during the day. We often see Meth use dramatically decline when these people have a safe place to sleep and warm meals to eat. When Meth use decreases, numerous aggressive behaviors also decrease.” Briscall said.






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