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Vancouver reveals proposed site of first-ever ‘tiny shelter’ project for homeless

Staff recommends 10 units be placed on parking lot on Terminal Avenue
A city staff report that goes before Vancouver council next week recommends 10 “tiny shelters” be placed in a parking lot adjacent to a building at 875 Terminal Ave. that currently serves as a 60-bed shelter.

The parking lot of a homeless shelter on Terminal Avenue is the proposed site of Vancouver’s first-ever “tiny shelter” experiment, according to a city staff report that goes before city council next week for approval of the project.

If approved, 10 structures designed to accommodate up to two homeless people each will be spread across the fenced-in lot. Each unit will be equipped with heat and air-conditioning, and occupants will have access to all services in the existing shelter.

“Despite the progress we have made in housing thousands of individuals and families, an emergency response to homelessness continues to be needed,” the report said.

“The creation of a [tiny shelter pilot project] offers an alternate option to people currently sleeping outside and who do not want to access a typical congregate setting.”

Staff has requested council unlock up to $1.5 million from the city’s empty homes tax fund for the two-year experiment, a dollar amount that will cover construction, operation and evaluation of the project. The total tab to build the 10 shelters, or homes, is estimated at $460,000.

About $1 million would go to Lu’ma Native Housing Society, which currently operates the shelter at 875 Terminal Ave. The shelter, known as Klahowya Tillicum Lalum, opened in May 2021 and has 60 spaces.

Guests are offered 24-hour staff support, meals, washrooms and laundry.

The proposed site of a 10-unit "tiny shelter" project at 875 Terminal Ave. Photo Mike Howell

The report emphasizes that staff will continue to lobby senior governments to pay or assist in the operation of the project. At the same time, staff recommends council expedite the creation of the 10 tiny shelters in the absence of government funds.

“By co-locating the tiny shelter pilot on this site, economies of scale are achieved as the overall cost of management and provision of support services make this project more affordable than if piloted at a stand-alone site,” the report said.

“Staff have been in discussions with BC Housing about the model and its benefits and while there is interest, no commitment on additional funding has been provided at the time of writing this report.”

Tiny shelters could be ready by September

Even if council approves the project at its Feb. 9 meeting, it will likely take until September before people can move in to the 10 units, which will either be built on site or delivered by transport truck.

The report outlines several steps that must be taken first, including choosing a builder, finalizing management plans, securing a development permit and consulting with neighbours.

In recent years, the neighbourhood near Terminal and Clark Drive has become one of the most densely populated areas in the city for people who were homeless, at risk of homelessness or living in different types of vehicles.

Two temporary modular housing buildings featuring 98 homes opened last year on Vernon Drive, with occupants a mix of people at risk of homelessness or who were living on the street.

People also continue to sleep in tents and under tarps in the area while others live in cars, vans and recreational vehicles parked along the Evans Avenue-Glen Drive strip and Cottrell Street, as observed Wednesday in a visit to the neighbourhood.

Two people were huddled under this tarp Wednesday in the same neighbourhood as the proposed tiny shelter project. Photo Mike Howell

As Vancouver Is Awesome reported in December, staff believes the homeless population remains the same or may have increased since its last count in March 2020, when volunteers counted 1,548 people living in some form of shelter and 547 on the street.

Homelessness continues to persist across British Columbia, as regional and provincial counts have shown. Though Vancouver’s interest in tiny shelters or homes is new, cities such as Victoria and Duncan have already set up structures.

A number of American cities, including Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, have also embraced the tiny home or shelter concept in their responses to homelessness.