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Biltmore to house homeless

95 rooms to be ready later this month
Bill Briscall
RainCity Housing communications manager Bill Briscall stands outside the Biltmore Hotel, which is undergoing renovations before it re-opens this month as temporary housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The former Biltmore Hotel at 395 Kingsway opens as temporary housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, including long-time shelter users, later this month — almost a year after plans were first announced.

The Biltmore building is privately owned, but B.C. Housing signed a six-year lease for 95 rooms. The ground-floor commercial spaces are not part of the lease.

B.C. Housing will provide about $1.7 million in annual operating costs to the Biltmore and it's provided $535,000 to help make the building more safe and secure. The City of Vancouver has provided $1.1 million for renovation work. Renovations are almost completed.

The 95 units will provide temporary housing to residents while more permanent housing is being constructed. The Biltmore will follow the city's mandated housing mix of 50 per cent street or sheltered homeless, 30 per cent at risk of homelessness and 20 per cent from SROs or inadequate housing.

RainCity Housing and Support Society will operate the hotel.

Bill Briscall, RainCity’s communications manager, said housing the homeless or those at risk of homelessness who live in Mount Pleasant is the first priority.

Staff from B.C. Housing and RainCity are selecting tenants.

“The focus is folks in the community so [we’re] getting referrals from the recovery club on 12th, the Raven Song clinic through Vancouver Coastal Health at Ontario and Eighth and we’re filling up with folks who are sleeping at Robson Park and other parks nearby that I’ve seen,” he said.

One meal, prepared offsite, will be brought in for residents daily. RainCity Housing will also provide personal care items, clothing, and resources, such as nurse drop-in hours, treatment referrals, and helping with applications for long-term housing.

The city is hosting two community information meetings about the Biltmore plans Jan. 8 and Jan. 11.  

Parents from Nightingale elementary school, which is about a block-and-a-half away from the building, have raised concerns about its proximity to the school.

Jim Meschino, the Vancouver School Board’s director of facilities, said concerns centre on fears about student safety and potential problems on school grounds. VSB ground crews do regular sweeps of inner city school sites.

“We were doing that already at Nightingale, but only three days a week. What we’ve done is taken that to five days a week at Nightingale to make sure that first thing in the morning the workers check for needles or condoms or anything like that that would not be suitable for a school site,” he said.

“We have been meeting with the city and the city’s been meeting with the school [parent advisory council] directly and we’ve been listening to concerns. What we’ve said we would do, along with the city, is monitor any activity on or around the school site that isn’t appropriate and then those concerns would be brought forward by either us or the school PAC to the city, so we can try and mitigate any challenges that might come up.”

Meschino sad not everyone is satisfied, although others see the need for this type of housing and believe it’s long overdue.

Briscall said neighbourhood residents who have concerns should attend an open house.

“Let us know [about concerns]. If you want to become really involved, there’s a community advisory committee that will be established once the building is open to address concerns — to both work out scenarios that could arise and figure out the best way to address them and also to address things as they happen,” he said.

Steve Bohus, spokesperson for the Residents Association of Mount Pleasant [RAMP], wants “meaningful involvement.”

“We support social housing in Mount Pleasant. We want the facility to be very, very successful and very well run and [to be] a good environment for the residents and to integrate the facility into the wider community — those are the goals,” he said.

“The question is will the city’s plan get us there or are there many problems and has there been adequate consultation to date. This is where there have been significant issues.”

RAMP held a community meeting about the Biltmore Dec. 18 and plans another one Jan. 9.

The city’s first open house is at St. Patrick’s Regional High School from 6 to 8 p.m., Jan. 8, while the second one is at the Native Education College from 10 a.m. until 12 noon, Jan. 11. RAMP’s community forum is set for Jan. 9 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Church.