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Burnaby playing 'catch-up' with homeless housing: advocate

Mayor Derek Corrigan says shelters are 'problematic,' but supports new housing project

B.C. Housing and the city are scheduled to build Burnaby’s first residence for people who are homeless by March 2019, the provincial government announced Friday.

A new three-storey building at 3986 Norland St. will have 52 studio units for men and women, including seniors and people with disabilities, who are homeless and need support to address mental health or substance abuse issues.

The building will be located across from a Montessori school and a church, and down the street from a seniors home, a preschool, and a second church.

The provincial government will contribute $7.6 million to build the facility, with Burnaby leasing the undeveloped city-owned land to B.C. Housing for at least five years using money from the city’s housing fund.

Karen O’Shannacery, of the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, said she was very happy to hear of the plans for the new facility. As the Progressive Housing Society estimates there are currently 250 to 300 people who are homeless in Burnaby, O’Shannacery says this project is a step forward to address this issue.

“We know that providing homes is the answer: it doesn’t take rocket science,” she told the NOW. “People without homes need homes, first and foremost, and they need the supports that are appropriate to help them keep their homes, and stabilize, and become really healthy and part of the community in a bigger, in a better way.”

But although this announcement is good news, and a step in the right direction, O’Shannacery says more work needs to be done.

“Burnaby is definitely playing catch-up. The surrounding communities have a continuum of housing for people who are homeless. This is a first for Burnaby,” she said.

Neighbouring municipalities, such as New Westminster, Surrey and Vancouver, already have shelters and transitional, supportive and permanent housing.

The Progressive Housing Society – which will operate the new facility – currently runs one transitional house in Burnaby that supports five people for two years or less, and two shared homes for five other clients. They also run supported independent living and community living support programs.

But this is the first dedicated housing facility for homeless people in the city. Burnaby does not have a year-round shelter, but some emergency shelters are available during the winter.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said the city has not been supportive of other housing projects for homeless people in the past because those models offered only temporary solutions. Overnight shelters, he says, have been “problematic,” created “neighbourhood difficulties,” and “very negative experiences” in other communities where they have operated.

“The experience of homeless shelters hasn’t been good for communities, but this kind of option provides much more stability and much more ability for the community to feel comfortable,” he told the NOW.

This type of project is one Corrigan can get behind, he says, because residents will have consistent support and counselling from staff, and a more permanent place to live, which will help residents find stability.

It’s also a project he hopes that will be well-received by the public.

“The goal is to get them into permanent housing in the community and make sure they’re standing independently. That’s what they’re going to make happen, which is a goal I share with them,” he said. “The more we can help people to become independent, stable, and maybe even get back to employment, the better off our community’s going to be.”

Janet Routledge is the MLA for Burnaby North, the riding where the facility will be built. Funding the new building is part of the provincial government’s plans to address homelessness and a lack of low-cost housing across the province, she said.

“I think it’s a very important step for Burnaby. We know we have a housing crisis in the province; we have a housing crisis in Burnaby,” she told the NOW. “There are people living in Burnaby without a roof over their head. This is an opportunity to provide them with safe, secure housing, and integrate them into the community.”

Each studio unit will be self-contained with a private bathroom and kitchen, and the building will have 24-7 staff with health and wellness services, meal programs, shared laundry, and employment and life-skills training.

B.C. Housing* will be meeting with the community and neighbours of where the new facility will be built. The first open house is scheduled for June 5, 6 and 7 at the Bill Copeland Community Centre, 3676 Kensington Ave.

The original version of this story indicated Burnaby staff would be meeting with the community, but in fact, consultation will be with B.C. Housing on this project. We regret the error.