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NEWS: Winter homeless shelters set to close

The 160 people housed in temporary shelters over the winter will be out on the street at the end of this month unless the province steps up to keep the facilities open.

The 160 people housed in temporary shelters over the winter will be out on the street at the end of this month unless the province steps up to keep the facilities open.

Mark Smith, executive director of Raincity Housing, the non-profit operator of three of the four shelters, said there is no available housing for the 160 people who have spent the winter in temporary Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) shelters.

This is the third consecutive year the provincial government has funded operation of the four shelters, located in Kitsilano, the West End, Downtown and Mt. Pleasant. Under the deal with the province, they are to close April 30.

The biggest problem this year is that theres really not any place to move people to, said Smith.

Last year, temporary shelter residents transitioned into BC Housing at the Dunsmuir Hotel after the facilities closed in the spring, said Smith. The year before, the shelters were granted an extension to stay open during the summer, but the move provoked outrage from some members of the surrounding communities.

The problem with these particular temporary shelters is that theyre located in parts of town where there arent a lot of these kinds of services anyway and so the community is very wary and kind of watchful, he said. However, without suitable housing for shelter residents, Smith said he believes the best option is to work with the communities and the province to keep the shelters open.

Each shelter, which provides two meals a day, costs about $80,000 per month to operate, he said.

While the province has invested $300 million into constructing 14 social housing buildings in Vancouver on municipal land, many of those projects are running behind schedule. Smith said the first site on Station Street, which opened earlier this year, is already full.

Ushering shelter residents back on the street will shatter connections theyve made to fellow residents and staff, Smith continued, and reverse some of the progress that has been made in helping street-entrenched individuals adjust to living inside.

What were seeing is that these temporary shelters are an entry point, a way of connecting with a population that is so disconnected that they wont come in and they wont go straight from the street to a [permanent housing] opportunity. Thats too big a jump for them, he said.

West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert has called on Premier Christy Clark and the Liberal government to keep the shelters open. Because the provincial government hasnt come up with a plan on what to do with these folks, theyre just going to end up being sent back to the street, he said. Just because its not freezing out doesnt mean its not horrible to send somebody to sleep in the rain.

Herbert said his constituents in the West End seem to be in support of the shelter on Cardero Street, noting the Downtown Business Improvement Association and the Vancouver Police Department have reported a decrease in crime since the shelter opened. Herbert added hes also heard anecdotally that staff at St. Pauls Hospital have seen fewer visits from homeless people in mental or physical distress.

Were winning on a whole bunch of fronts, it would be a real shame to lose that, he said.

A spokesperson for Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing confirmed the shelters will close as of April 30. He said BC Housing and non-profit operators are working to find housing solutions for residents.