Mayor Gregor Robertson says he is working to find ways to open temporary shelters this winter for more than 100 homeless people, despite the provincial government’s announcement Tuesday that it won’t pay for operating costs of the facilities.
Previously, the provincial government funded four winter shelters in Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, the West End and near the north end of the Granville Street Bridge, providing approximately 160 beds.
The cost for operating all four shelters last year was $2.5 million, about $500,000 of which came from the city for renovations. Some opened for four months, others five months.
“I’m not giving up that we can’t find a solution here,” Robertson said Tuesday after learning the news. “This is October and it’s been in to December the last three years that we’ve ironed out the funding arrangements and the buildings that we can open. So I’m hopeful we can eventually reach an accord that helps people off the streets once winter hits.”
Robertson made the comment at Karis Place, a social housing complex on Seymour Street, after officially opening the building with Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Richmond Conservative MP Alice Wong.
Coleman told reporters after the ceremony that four new buildings, including Karis Place, have opened in the last year and provide 393 total apartments. Therefore, he said, there was no reason to further fund the winter shelters. He said the government’s housing strategy has always been to move people off the street and out of shelters as new social housing is built.
“We wrote the city last spring and told them that we didn’t feel that with the 300 units coming on stream that we would be needing those [winter shelters],” Coleman said. “Our numbers say we won’t.”
Karis Place is one of the so-called 14 sites that politicians often refer to when talking about new social housing coming on board in Vancouver. The city provided the sites while the provincial government, federal government and the Streetohome Foundation agreed to pay for the construction and operation of the buildings. All are expected to be built over the next two years, creating a total of 1,575 housing units.
Coleman pointed out the provincial government will continue to fund three shelters that have remained open since 2008. They are the First United Church, the Stanley/New Fountain and a shelter at 201 Central St.
The 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count preliminary report released in May revealed Vancouver had a total homeless population of 1,605, with more than 1,300 people in shelters. What worries Robertson is that 145 people were recorded to be living on the streets.
“We still have work to do to convince the province that we’ll need more capacity than they’ve committed to so far,” the mayor said. “That’s the big question, ‘Where will people go if there aren’t enough shelters?’ Historically, they’ve stayed outside and tried to survive, and we’ve had people die on our streets in recent years.”
An American weather forecasting company predicted this week that Vancouver could be in for one of the coldest winters in two decades. The minister added the government will continue its cold and wet weather strategies, which trigger nonprofits and other agencies to open their doors for homeless people when temperatures plummet.
“We’ve increased some of our severe cold weather stuff and we’ve got that ready to go if there’s a severe weather event for this winter,” Coleman added.