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B.C. government to spend $6.9M on 'work camp' housing for Vancouver homeless

Sites located near Main and Terminal, and adjacent to Olympic Village transit station
Premier David Eby with MLA Melanie Mark, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon and Mayor Ken Sim in vacant city lot Wednesday near Main Street and Terminal Avenue.

The B.C. government will spend $6.9 million to house 90 people in temporary work camp-style units on two city properties in Vancouver in an effort to reduce the homeless population on East Hastings Street and in CRAB park.

Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon announced the strategy Wednesday in an empty city lot adjacent to the city’s first modular housing project at Main and Terminal, which will remain in place when the new units open in March.

“This housing will help address the urgent need to create more safe stable homes for people experiencing homelessness, and it will serve as a bridge to accessing health supports and more permanent housing,” said Eby from the former site of an orchard.

The other city property slated for the housing is at 2132 Ash St., which is also the site of a modular building and located near the Canada Line’s Olympic Village station.

Unlike the city’s other dozen modular housing sites, which have buildings with multiple storeys, the two announced by government Wednesday will be ground-level units similar to what is used in work camps, according to Eby.

"It's meant to be an urgent response," the premier said. "We can move faster with that particular type of housing. It's available for us to respond quickly...we've got a bunch of people outside, we've got shelters at capacity, so we want to make sure that we're creating the space."

The homes will not go directly to people living in tents on East Hastings Street or in CRAB park, but to people currently living in shelters. The expectation is the two new housing sites will free up space in existing shelters for people on East Hastings and in CRAB park.

Staff will be on site 24 hours a day and tenants will have access to mental health and primary care services, along with cultural programming. Harm reduction supplies will also be available at both complexes.

Each tenant will have a room, but share a bathroom.

'Money well spent'

Kahlon said in an interview after the news conference that the $6.9 million is money well spent, despite the housing being temporary and expected to be in place for only three years. Additional government funds will cover operating costs, but details weren't announced Wednesday.

“Anytime you can get some housing where they have their own washroom, and they're able to get support services is definitely money well spent,” said Kahlon, who acknowledged the need to build more permanent housing and noted more would open in Vancouver next year.

Since July, the B.C. government says, more than 150 newly renovated indoor single-room-occupancy (SRO) spaces with support services have opened in Vancouver. These are in addition to 584 temporary shelter spaces and 88 emergency weather-response shelter spaces that opened in Vancouver as of Nov. 30.

Mayor Ken Sim praised the government for the investment in the two new sites, describing it as “meaningful progress” in both governments' shared goal of securing quality housing for the city's most vulnerable residents.

“We want to take this opportunity to applaud the provincial government for their commitment for taking on a leadership role in coordinating the response to the crisis in the Downtown Eastside,” said Sim, who was joined by several city councillors at the news conference.

Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Melanie Mark, who served as master of ceremonies, shared that her mother was once homeless in the Downtown Eastside.

"As the only First Nations woman to ever get elected in B.C., with a mother who lived on the streets of the Downtown Eastside for 15 years out of a shopping cart, we know that it's a game-changer for people to have housing," Mark said.

"They can't get to their medical appointments, they can't get to treatment, they can't get their kids back, they can't  get to work, they can't get back to school unless they have a roof over their head."

Homeless counts over the years in Vancouver and across the region have repeatedly shown that Indigenous peoples are overrepresented on the streets.

David Ward, director of operations for Lu'ma Native Housing Society, welcomed the government's announcement, saying the 90 homes will give unhoused people the time, support and space to transition from survival mode.

'Give them a good life'

Prior to the news conference, a tenant of a social housing building near Main and East First Avenue introduced himself to Kahlon and told him he used to be homeless until securing housing at the government-funded highrise.

“When you invest in this type of housing, you can give people stability and give them a good life,” Kahlon said.

Vancouver currently has 12 temporary modular housing complexes spread around the city, with more than 650 rooms. Most of the buildings are funded by the B.C. government and most are located on city land.

The city has not done a homeless count since March 2020, when more than 2,000 people were recorded as homeless, with 547 on the street and 1,548 in some form of shelter.

In December 2021, a Vancouver city staff memo to council said homelessness remained the same or may have increased since the city last conducted the homeless count in March 2020 — despite the addition of 737 new housing units and shelter spaces since the count.