Vancouver confronts homeless problem in run-up to Winter Games

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, January 7, 2010
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Vancouver stepped up its efforts to confront its homeless problem on Tuesday when it opened the second of four temporary shelters scheduled to be operational before the city hosts the Winter Olympics next month.

With the re-opening of a 40-bed shelter under a downtown bridge in downtown Vancouver, a site closed last summer after complaints of drug abuse, fighting and noise, the West Coast city is planning to add an additional 160 beds in all.

The move is part of Vancouver's "Winter Response Plan" that will see the four "Homeless Emergency Action Team" shelters, supplementing three existing HEAT shelters that have been open since December 2008.

The additional beds, which will raise the total number available to 1,250 when all seven shelters are operational, will be opened through a 500,000 Canadian dollar contribution from the city and 1.2 million dollars from the province of British Columbia.

While the shelters will only remain open through April, Mayor Gregor Robertson told the media that "we have a national homeless crisis."

With Vancouver's reasonably temperate winter climate compared to other parts of Canada, Robertson said the city suffered "from a steady flow of people from colder climates."

Even with the addition, the number was still short of the beds required. According to the city, in the last official count taken in March 2008, at least 1,600 people slept outside or stayed in shelters on any given night.

The real number of homeless, however, was likely higher according to different groups. At an extreme high, an October 2007report released by health professors at three Canadian universities estimated there could be more than 15,000 homeless adults in British Columbia suffering from either severe addictions or mental illness.

In Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the poorest area in Canada, a conservative estimate would be between 3,000 and 4,000 homeless. Other areas of the city, such as Mount Pleasant and the Downtown Peninsula, West End, were also popular haunts of the homeless.

To its credit, the city has set a goal of eradicating homelessness by 2015. With the province as its partner, Vancouver has identified 14 sites within the city to create permanent housing for the homeless. Under the plan the city would provide the land, while the province would provide capital and operating funds. A non-profit service provider would operate the housing.

Currently, 600 units are under construction at six sites, while800 units at eight other sites were waiting for funding. Last year,480 units at permanent housing projects were opened in the city.

Robertson said the city would not seek to extend the life of the "emergency" shelters, adding that "our focus beyond April will be on creating interim housing."

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