Last night I attended the City’s public meeting on a new winter homeless shelter being opened in a week or so on East Pender Street. On a very rainy night, about 40 local residents came out to the Wise Hall to learn about the shelter.
Brenda Prosken, CoV’s General Manager of Community Services, gave an informative presentation on the history of efforts in the city to deal with street homelessness and how winter shelters fit into the continuum of housing.
The shelter will be run by Rain City (who run some other highly controversial shelters, including in Mount Pleasant). There will be 40 beds, reservable, and will be open 24 hours a day — this is an excellent and much needed change from the system that used to force the homeless out of shelters each morning to fend for themselves until the shelter opened again at night. Three meals a day will be provided, along with laundry services, and the homeless will be allowed to bring inside their pets and their carts of possessions. Rain City will work with CoV and outside agencies to provide drug and alcohol harm reduction services.
After the presentation, we had small group discussions with City and Rain City staff. My table included several residents who live around Woodland Park — close to the shelter — and I was interested to learn the issues that plague that Park. It is, I learn, a daily hangout for alcohol and drug users, and the Park is gravely contaminated with needles and other unpleasant debris from their lifestyles. There was concern that having a shelter so close would exacerbate those problems.
The RainCity folks suggested that, because of the 24/7 openness, the low-barrier entry, and their hopes to ensure local homeless get into the shelter, they hoped the new place might actually reduce some of these negative activities. They noted that their programs were designed to give priority to sheltered homeless in the search for more permanent supportive housing.
I am a strong supporter of the shelter concept. I recognize that some homeless do not want to go into shelters, and that’s their right, so far as I am concerned; but others do want the help.
My only problem with this particular shelter is that they are to use a vacant building owned by Epic Developments, a building that is scheduled to be demolished for market housing next spring. The taxpayers of Vancouver are therefore paying what I am sure is a handsome lease, giving an additional profit to a business for a building that would have been left empty. I guess it is too much to expect a greed-driven developer to simply allow the use for a dollar a year? Now that would be genuine public service.