Grants totalling $600,000 will likely be approved at city hall Wednesday to improve shelter options for homeless women and aboriginal people.
Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is urging city council to approve $500,000 for the St. James Community Service Society to renovate and expand its Powell Place Shelter for women, and a $100,000 capital grant to the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society to begin developing a permanent aboriginal homeless shelter on city-owned property across from The Cobalt on Main Street.
St. James Community Service Society provides 52 shelter beds in a building it's temporarily leasing from a private owner and 26 beds in a building it leases from the city. It wants to renovate the city-owned building to accommodate 52 women. Lanna Many Grey Horses, manager of Powell Place, wasn't sure when the society would have to vacate the privately owned space.
Women served by the society hail from a variety of economic and cultural backgrounds, Many Grey Horses said, adding an increasing number of shelter users are aged 45 to 65. Some women stay for a short stint while their room elsewhere is being sprayed for vermin and others stay for as long as year.
The society maintains an annual occupancy rate of 99.7 per cent at its shelters and turned away 1,647 inquiries about shelter in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to Many Grey Horses. The number of inquiries includes repeated calls from individual women.
"If somebody leaves, we do a quick clean and whatnot and get the space ready for somebody else because we know that the amount of turn-aways we get is quite high," she said.
Although the total number of homeless people has declined since 2010, the number of women who are homeless in Vancouver has increased by four per cent, according to the 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count.
The society wants to provide a "really respectful" place for the women it shelters, according to Many Grey Horses. It wants to provide more quiet common areas, instead of just one noisy TV room, space for one-to-one discussions, a classroom-type room where life skills could be taught, a medical treatment room, a self-serve and a commercial kitchen.
"When women are in crisis, having space is really important, having that respectful time for yourself and quiet time is important," Many Grey Horses said. "It'll definitely decrease the amount of conflict that happens when people are in crisis. When everyone is so close together, things can really escalate; issues amplify."
Instead of all double rooms, the society wants to construct some single rooms. Space constraints mean they can't all be singles, Many Grey Horses said. Providing storage space for possessions and an area for pets is being explored.
The province committed $2.3 million last month to the project that's estimated to cost $4.3 million. The society has raised $250,000 privately and aims to raise another $745,000, according to Many Grey Horses. The non-profit is also applying for federal government funding.
The $500,000 from the city would come from its capital budgets.
The Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society has operated 100 spaces in the 201 Central temporary HEAT shelter near Main and Terminal since it opened in winter 2008/09.
The society wants a permanent shelter for aboriginal people with the possibility of social housing on the upper floors.
A city staff report states the city's approval of a $100,000 capital grant could lever $2 million from Service Canada in earmarked funds for homeless initiatives. The money would come from the city's capital budgets.
A call to the friendship centre was not returned.