Why Coal Harbour, Roundhouse community centres opened for homeless during pandemic

Mayor Kennedy Stewart and wife live ‘steps away’ from Roundhouse in Yaletown

12th and Cambie

Had some enquiries from readers over the weekend about why Coal Harbour and Roundhouse community centres were chosen as temporary shelters for homeless people during the pandemic.

The tone of their enquiries suggested they weren’t happy about the decision made by the City of Vancouver, B.C. Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health to move people in.

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So it was not a surprise to learn from the mayor’s office that Kennedy Stewart got his share of emails, too. Many people don’t support the move, but many do, according to the mayor’s office.

Interestingly, the mayor only received emails from people living near Roundhouse. Zero came from Coal Harbour.

Stewart must have anticipated some blowback would come when he stepped to the microphone at city hall last week to explain the decision to open the community centres to homeless people.

“My wife Jeanette and I live steps away from Roundhouse,” said the mayor in a rare public sharing of personal information.

“We know our neighbourhood is proud to be part of this urgent response, and I know the same goes for those living in Coal Harbour because Vancouverites know that we’re all in this together.”

In case you missed it, I wrote a bit of a scoop last Thursday about Coal Harbour becoming the first community centre in the city to open to protect homeless people from contracting COVID-19.

I also mentioned that Roundhouse was next.

Beds set up in Roundhouse Community centre. Photo courtesy Shayne Ramsay/Twitter

The details of my story were confirmed later in the day at the news conference led by Stewart, who has repeatedly said his top priority during the pandemic is to keep the city’s most vulnerable safe.

As you’re probably aware, the city shut down the community centres this month to help stop the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, many facilities, restaurants and services the homeless rely on have either closed or been curtailed.

Shelters, as I’ve written many times over the years, generally operate at full capacity in Vancouver, with many people turned away and forced to sleep in parks, parkades and outside your front door.

Some simply don’t like shelters, which you can read more about here.

The close quarters in shelters don’t exactly allow for physical distancing, which is a problem for many of those with underlying health conditions, and consequently makes them more susceptible to contract the virus.

So, as I was told last week by Coun. Pete Fry, the city’s move to open up the community centres to homeless people was to make some room in those shelters.

Coal Harbour opened with 21 beds, with plans to expand to 64 beds. Roundhouse can house up to 79 people. Both facilities have separate rooms with private bathrooms for people who need to self-isolate.

On Monday, I received more details on why both centres were chosen. Those details came via an email from B.C. Housing, which I will cut-and-paste for you to read.

I’m doing this to clear up questions some of you may have, and to quell any rumours circulating in Yaletown and Coal Harbour, where homeless people are not uncommon in the streets and parks.

In fact, more than 2,200 homeless people were counted in Vancouver over a 24-hour period in March 2019. Another count was done this month, with statistics expected to be released in a couple of months.

Read this city report if you want to know why the homeless population is at its highest.

In the meantime, here’s the email from B.C. Housing:

“As of March 30th, 11 people are staying at the Coal Harbour Community Centre and five at Roundhouse. These sites were identified by the City of Vancouver and Park Board in response to B.C. Housing’s request for potential locations in the downtown area. 

 “These two sites were available immediately and have the size, indoor layout, and proximity to St. Paul’s Hospital, making them suitable as emergency response centres for people experiencing homelessness. 

“Many people experiencing homelessness have higher rates of health concerns and may be at greater risk if exposed to COVID-19. Areas within these new sites also have separate spaces for people to self-isolate and recover, if needed.

“People living at these sites are not permitted to mingle with other people or go outdoors. These sites are vital in preventing the spread of COVID-19 as they allow us to spread out the number of people in existing shelters, prevent crowding and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“As British Columbians work to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Province is taking swift action to protect vulnerable people, including those experiencing homelessness, in communities around the province.

“Details on many of these items were announced last week: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020MAH0013-000536.

 “B.C. Housing is also conducting a province-wide inventory and has identified a significant number of locations for accommodating vulnerable populations, including motels and community centres like Coal Harbour and Roundhouse.

More details on specific locations will be available as they are implemented in communities.” 

You can find the latest updates on B.C. Housing’s actions online at: bchousing.org/COVID-19.  

Hope that helps.

Stay safe everybody and look out for your neighbours.







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