BC Housing Minister Rich Coleman, reiterated his desire for the homeless to be forced from the streets for their own safety during cold nights, at the Pennsylvania Hotel on the Downtown Eastside last Thursday.
His thoughts weren’t those of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s who thinks progress can only be made by improving facilities so the down and out of the city feel safer in shelters and can take their shopping trolleys with them when they go inside.
They were speaking at the swanky opening of the hotel – all vol-au-vents and jazz music – which has been extensively and expensively renovated. The reception could have almost been a function on Burrard except there was an odd washed out hippie doing the junkie shuffle in the corner, and people were loading up on the free food while it was going.
There was lots of talk of the success of the collaborations between the municipal, provincial and federal governments and private and community groups by the Mayor, the Minister and the representatives of
the involved organizations present. It took 8 years and the efforts of all these groups to open one hotel with enough capacity to house 44 people in reasonable conditions. Liz Evans, the executive director of
the Portland Hotel Society, was genuinely pleased about the hotel being reopened. It took her a long time and a lot of effort to see it being put to proper use. She wasn’t so hot on the partnerships though. She said it was like sitting in on a “poker game where no-one wanted to show their hands”.
“It was a long road to get here,” she said, “It closed eight years ago and it has taken that entire time to get it open again.”
Ms Evans said the partnership, although necessary to get the hotel up and running, had taken such a long time to organize that the $14 million dollar development had cost more than it should have.
There were many conflicting interests working together during the project. This was apparent at the hotel opening: the opinions and ideas of the politicians differed somewhat, and the aims of the
non-profit Portland Hotel Society are far from those of the profit driven Concorde Pacific, who were also instrumental in the reopening of the hotel.
The real estate developer is currently considering using 58 W Hastings, a plot of land in the heart of the DTES that it had controversially planned to build 160 new condos on, as a social housing development funded by the government: A good idea considering the current economic climate, said Frances Bula at the event.
Gregor Robertson made it clear that homelessness in the city is a pressing issue, one that he hopes to solve by 2015. If he wishes to do so perhaps a quicker and more cohesive plan is needed- one that lays the cards on the table rather than relying on games of poker.