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Businesses in heart of Commercial Drive say low-barrier homeless shelter has caused uptick in crime

Last Updated May 13, 2019 at 4:12 pm PDT

Used needles businesses at First Avenue and Commercial Drive say they have found. (Courtesy Kuljeet Kaila)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Businesses in the 1st Avenue and Commercial Drive area say they’ve had to deal with more needles on the ground, shoplifting, and threatening behavior since a shelter opened up nearby.

“There’s definitely a correlation between uptick in property crime and vagrancy and all those things that sort of satellite around the shelter, you know, I feel sorry for the building maintenance guy because he has to clean-up terrible messes every day,” says Darcey Houser who owns the SuperValu grocery store across the street from the shelter.

He says he’s needed to make costly changes to adapt to the shelter.

“We’ve had to increase security, increase, you know, and improve our camera systems, add additional clean-up and security patrols for the underground,” Houser tells NEWS 1130.

“I mean all of those come back on the merchants.”

Part of the problem, according to Houser, is the shelter is low-barrier.

“I do see a need for people to have a place to lay their head, you know, if they’re down on their luck but the problem with the enabling behavior and the drug use, that is, you know that has a real impact on the neighborhood.”

Houser says the shelter was supposed to close at the end of March, but he believes the City of Vancouver is considering keeping it open through the summer.

“Unrelated to the operations of the shelter”

In a response to NEWS 1130, the City of Vancouver says the shelter has received funding from the province to stay open until March 21, 2020 but the lease for the location expires at the end of June so it’s exploring potential relocation.

“Homelessness continues to be persistent in the Commercial Drive area and should the shelter be relocated, it’s important to the City and BC Housing to provide shelter and support in this neighbourhood,” reads part of the response.

It says the shelter is managed by an experienced and professional non-profit housing and shelter operator, Community Builders Group and that a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meets monthly to address concerns.

“Through the CAC we are aware that concerns have been raised around homelessness in the community, unrelated to the operations of the shelter. The City has received minimal complaints through 3-1-1 related to the operations of the shelter,” says the city.

“Temporary shelters save lives by providing shelter guests with necessary health, social and housing services. All temporary shelters are low-barrier, meaning couples are welcome, and guests can bring their belongings, carts and pets. This is to ensure all people feel welcomed at the temporary shelters, and so that belongings or personal situations do not act as a barrier for people to come indoors.

The city adds by accommodating basis needs, people are more likely to choose to come indoors instead of sleeping outside.

Low-barrier temporary shelters have been opened in the Grandview-Woodlands neighborhood since 2014, and in this particular location since 2015.