Emergency shelter in Burnaby now expected to open in October

Officials are hoping to have an emergency shelter originally planned to open this summer up and running by the end of October, according to Burnaby city staff.

The update came in a report to council in which staff sought approval for the city’s homelessness response for 2020/21. The addition of an emergency response centre would provide more shelter space at a time of greater need, staff noted in a report to city council.

“In the past months, the demand for shelter space has grown, and at the same time the need to socially distance has meant that existing space at the Douglas shelter and at the warming centres was insufficient,” reads the report.

The ERC had been planned to open in July, within a month of the closure of the city’s last warming centre to maintain some continuity of shelters during the pandemic. By late August, the ERC still had not been built, with BC Housing saying it was “still actively discussing” the matter with the city, with the location still not finalized and a lease not yet signed.

Asked by the NOW in early September whether there had been enough urgency to open the shelter, Mayor Mike Hurley said, “Quite frankly, no.”

Now, the 45-bed space, slated for the parking lot of the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex, which is currently awaiting replacement, appears to be on track once again. BC Housing is “doing their very best to try and have the ERC operational by the end of October,” director of planning Ed Kozak told council.

According to the staff report, BC Housing originally proposed the shelter close on Dec. 31, which aligned with the construction schedule for the sports centre’s replacement.

BC Housing has since requested for the ERC to remain open until June 30, 2021, due to the cost of building the centre for such a short term. City staff said the updated timeline still does not conflict with the city’s construction timeline but did not elaborate.

In a closed meeting on Sept. 14, council approved the extension of the agreement to June next year, according to the city report.

Staff noted the ERC will differ from the warming centres in that it involves an intake process to access the shelter beds. That, staff noted, means patrons can be tracked, which allows shelter staff to better connect them with services and to conduct contact tracing in the event of illness.

City staff also noted the ERC would be open 24-7, meaning patrons would have a place to stay during the day as well. This could also mean less littering or loitering during the day.

The ERC will be run by the Progressive Housing Society, which could streamline the connection to housing.

Coun. Pietro Calendino noted the demand will still likely exceed the availability of shelter beds in the city, and most of the shelter space is concentrated on the north half of Burnaby.

“I think we need to keep our eyes open because there will be people that will fall through the cracks, and we have to keep BC Housing alerted of that,” Calendino said.

The staff report noted that, if there’s still not enough space for everyone, or if patrons need to self-isolate, BC Housing can still acquire hotel space to accommodate those needs.

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