By Lara Howsam
Rod Gash is a resident of Kitsilano’s first homeless shelter. A recovering addict, Gash lived in area carports before the shelter opened Jan. 15 on West 4th Avenue between Pine and Fir Streets.
Gash was among the sixteen people who arrived opening night. The shelter reached its 40-person capacity within days of opening, on Jan. 19.
Gash said being in Kitsilano helps him stay out of trouble and away from the Downtown Eastside, which is where many of the services for homelessness are currently provided.
“If it wasn’t for this, I would still be living in that carport over there,” said Gash pointing across the alley from the shelter.
The shelter, which is scheduled to be open only during the winter months, is part of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s goal to end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.
Celine Mauboules, housing policy planner for the City of Vancouver, said the four new shelters the city has opened in the last month were put in areas that presented the greatest need. Mauboules said Kitsilano was one of the chosen areas because it lacked any services for homelessness.
The non-profit charitable organization Motivation Power & Achievement Society (MPA) operates the shelter in Kitsilano.
“You know, you can open a shelter in another part of the city but that is not necessarily going to address the needs of the community.” Executive Director of MPA, David MacIntyre said. “Many people have been living in the parks in Kitsilano for an extended period of time, and if you went looking for homeless you’ll certainly find them.”
The shelter in Kitsilano is a HEAT shelter. It is part of the city’s Winter Response Plan. The shelter is only to be open until Apr. 30, 2010. The Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) was created by Mayor Gregor Robertson in 2008.
On any given night, up to 1,600 people in Vancouver sleep outside or in shelters, according to an official count performed in 2008 and reported by the city in a January document.
The shelter in Kits is a low-barrier shelter, meaning that carts and pets are allowed inside.
Getting the shelter up and running
Mauboles said the shelter in Kitsilano was opened hurriedly with little or no notification in the surrounding community. She said the priority was to get the shelter open as quickly as possible.
“It was a kind of a short notification process,” Mauboles said. “But, you know, the idea of doing a lot of consultation with the neighbors, I guess there was some concern that that would take a lot of time.”
MPA operates community resource centers, and supported and licensed housing programs throughout Vancouver and the greater area, but this is their first time operating an emergency shelter.
MacIntyre, claims that the MPA is not aware of any significant issues since the opening of the shelter in Kits.
“We have been very pleased with the response from the neighbours,” MacIntyre said. “They are just pleased to see that a much needed service is being provided. We haven’t had any issues or concerns. We have been very, very pleased with how things have gone.”
Directly beside the shelter is a new condominium and retail space that was completed in late 2009, The Mantra. Condos within the building run upward of $800,000.
Remax real estate agent Louise Boutin said that residents are concerned about security.
“Hire security. That is probably the best thing.” Boutin said. “I don’t know why the city doesn’t do that, I mean it is not as if it costs an arm and a leg. That’s the only issue, because it brings with it other people that might not necessarily use it (the shelter), but may be hanging around.”
Mauboles says that the city is working closely with Vancouver City Police to ensure that safety is not a concern.
“The city is well aware,” Mauboles said. “If there are some concerns related to increased crime or those kinds of issues, and it is related to the shelter, we will definitely respond quickly.”
Both MacIntyre and Mauboles said they do not believe that the shelter will be open past its Apr. 30 close date.
Mauboles said that the funding, which is provided by both the municipal and provincial governments, is only guaranteed until the end of April.
The city has not been secretive about its push to address the homeless problem, and many wonder how much this has to do with the upcoming Olympics, and the many international visitors that are about to descend on the city.
Mauboles points out that the four emergency shelters, including the one in Kits, will be open long after the end of the Olympics.
“This is an ongoing concern.” Mauboles said. “And unfortunately, even though we have opened these additional shelters, there are still going to be homeless people on the streets during the Olympics. So you know, what we are trying to do is respond to critical need in the city, not just because of the Olympics.”
MacIntyre said that even though the shelter is only open for a short time he hopes that through the help of the MPA outreach workers some more long-term solutions can be provided to those who want it.
“We are the operators, so what our goal is for the shelter of course is to provide an immediate need,” MacIntyre said. “But our goals are much more far reaching than just immediate housing. Our goal is not just temporary, but actually looking at long term solutions to the homelessness situation in Kitsilano.”