Vancouver church homeless shelter running out of cash

Dozen people relocated to low-income hotels

The race is on for First United Church to house dozens of homeless residents before it loses its provincial government shelter funding at the end of March.

The church, at the corner of East Hastings Street at Gore, has been a refuge for at least 200 people a night for the past three years after it was asked by the city to become a temporary shelter for the homeless. Money was provided by B.C. Housing.

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With that money to run the shelter running out, the church has worked with the Carnegie Community Centres outreach program and B.C. Housing to relocate a dozen people since the start of the year and reduce its shelter space by the same number. But it still needs to relocate 185 people in the next two months as it winds up its nighttime shelter service.

B.C. Housing spokesperson Seumas Gordon said in an email that 29 individuals from First United have been housed since Jan. 1.

Co-executive director Stephen Gray says the dozen people relocated so far have moved to low-income hotels or similar setups. Approximately 120 people sleep at First United at least two-thirds of the time. Thats who were really working hard with because theyre the ones who are clearly most entrenched here, Gray said.

First United started collecting personal information from shelter users Jan. 5, so Gray notes its only been seriously finding housing for shelter users in the past two weeks.

Registering names of shelter users has unearthed an astounding figure, Gray said. ­In the last four weeks the church has sheltered more than 600 different people.

He said the church and its partners have worked with the 40 or 50 people who slept at First United but had other homes to address safety concerns so they could return to their residences.

Rev. Ric Matthews, one of the three ministers who resigned from First United in late December when the church began adhering to provincial and civic shelter, building safety and police regulations, worried the hardest to house would be turned away. But Gray and co-executive director Don Evans said people have been turned away because the shelter is full or because they have conditions on their probation orders that they not enter the building because of prior assaults.

Judy Graves, the citys housing advocate, says she hasnt seen any ill effects in the area as a result of the changes made this month. Graves said demanding personal information including names and ages hasnt kept people away because shelter users are accustomed to sharing such details. First United introduced a reservation system that holds a bed for an individual until 2 a.m., providing continuity for shelter users. It also discontinued its drop-in services between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. Gray says shelter users sleeping overnight prefer the calmer atmosphere without interruptions from drop-in visitors, but the loss of the drop-in service is being felt by others. Thats a gap in services that we were kind of filling but it was difficult to manage that alongside with the 200-plus shelter beds, he said.

The shelter funding First United receives from B.C. Housing includes money to provide a morning and evening meal. First United worries about how to continue an adequate meal service. Even when you house people into a SRO [single-room occupancy low-income hotel] they may not have a kitchen and still need a place to go for meals or a drop-in for socializing, Gray said.

Gordon said B.C. Housing will discuss the request for money for meals with the new management at First United. The province and its community partners are working closely with the First United Church during this transition phaselinking people to housing and support services, he wrote.

B.C. Housing and shelter staff have housed more than 180 more transient shelter users since May, but the shelter has still had to turn people away.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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