The Vancouver Park Board chair has told a group of Yaletown residents she’s happy to hear their concerns about a winter homeless shelter in their neighbourhood — as long as they stop using her father’s name.
Vision Vancouver’s Constance Barnes said she met with representatives of the Emery Barnes Park Community Association on Monday. Residents have made headlines for their vocal opposition to a winter homeless shelter that opened at 1210 Seymour St. Dec. 4. But their use of her father’s name has not sat well with Barnes’ family.
The late Emery Barnes, for whom the park is named, was a civil rights champion and in 1972 the first black man elected to the B.C. legislature.
“To see Emery Barnes and the word NIMBY in the same sentence, it was like OK, I need to be calling these people,” Barnes told the Courier. “Myself and my family are extremely uncomfortable with the name they’ve chosen.”
Residents said they will honour the request, and were pleased with Barnes’ responsiveness. President Sharon Promislow said the group will now call itself the Seymour Richards Community Association.
“Because of the vitriol that’s been created over the issue, she was concerned that we were using the family name. They preferred the name wasn’t thrust in the media all the time,” said Promislow.
Though many of their initial concerns about the shelter proved unfounded, residents remain worried about the impact of the shelter on the park and the other social services in the neighbourhood, including Covenant House for street youth and Coast Mental Health Resource centre.
“We had concerns that there would be lineups, like at the drop-in shelters around town. That’s not been the case,” she said. “People aren’t coming and going every day, so we’ve been very grateful for that.”
But some residents have noticed an increase in loitering, drug use, and fights since the shelter opened, she said.
Raincity Housing, which operates the shelters, said shelter managers have not received any reports of major incidents.
“The concerns that the community had aren’t coming up,” said associate director Sean Spear. “I think that people are just happy to be indoors. They want to be low key.”
Spear said the shelter’s 40 beds have been full since opening day.
Barnes said she has received reports of drug use in the park since the shelter opened, and will look into changes at the park board level. She also said that though she was not in a position to do anything about the shelter itself, she would bring concerns to the mayor and city council.
Promislow said Barnes addressed some of her organization’s concerns, but she said the newly renamed group will continue to oppose the placement of the shelter.
“It’s unfair to put on the residents of one city block the heavy burden of so many major social services,” she said, adding residents have not received a clear answer from the city on whether the shelter will be back next winter after its warm weather hiatus.
Barnes’ said though she respects the resident’s concerns, she ultimately supports the placement of the shelter.
“This shelter is exactly what my father would have supported,” she said.
As an NDP MLA, her father famously lived on the equivalent income of social assistance for two months to protest provincial cuts to welfare under Social Credit
“I thought, Pops would be thrilled,” Barnes said. “He’d be so happy to see that instead of people sleeping out in his park, they’re in [the shelter]. They can come together, eat and be warm. That’s huge.