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Vancouver to spend $30 million on 'emergency options' to house homeless amid COVID-19

Last Updated Oct 9, 2020 at 6:23 pm PDT

A tent is seen at Strathcona Park in Vancouver. (CityNews)

Vancouver City Council has unanimously approved a plan 'to lease or purchase as many housing units as possible'

The city will spend up to $30 million to buy, lease spaces that can serve as safe shelter

Council has also committed to targeted action to move those encamped at Strathcona Park indoors

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — After a 12-hour meeting Thursday, Vancouver City Council approved a plan “to lease or purchase as many housing units as possible to offer to unsheltered residents.”

A motion brought by the mayor underscores the urgency of finding housing 750 unsheltered residents as both colder weather and a second wave of COVID-19 loom.

“COVID-19 has reduced shelter capacity, forced people from SROs, eliminated incomes, and as a result pushed so many of our neighbours onto the street,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart writes in a release.

Thirty million dollars of municipal money will be allocated so staff can find and safe shelter options by buying or leasing hotels, SROs, or city owned vacant buildings.

The motion notes that despite some action and some promises from the province and the feds, “no funding is immediately available to the City of Vancouver to provide emergency COVID-19 relief for unsheltered Vancouver residents”

Stewart says he will continue to push other levels of government to invest in shelter and services to assist Vancouver’s vulnerable.

“Make no mistake, this is not a silver bullet. We still need far more investments in housing, mental health services, and safe supply from our partners in the provincial and federal governments to truly deliver for our neighbours who need it most. I am fighting for those investments – and I will not stop,” he continues.

The Mayor also thanked council for their “thoughtful interventions and amendments,” including the recommendation to find sites dedicated to housing homeless youth and women “as they have unique needs.”

One of the more contentious amendments dealt specifically with Strathcona Park, where hundreds of people have been encamped for several months.

After some debate, it passed with a clear majority.

Coun. Pete Fry explains that staff have been directed to “secure a location and immediately activate a pandemic shelter.”

This measure is meant to “triage” those living in the Strathcona Park encampment into indoor temporary, indoor shelter spaces as part of a “transition toward permanent housing.”

The timeline for this has not been set since city staff will have to grapple with logistics and coordinate with Vancouver Coastal Health.

“We’re looking at this as an emergency, so hopefully quite soon,” Fry says.

“Obviously we’re getting into some colder, wetter weather. The second wave of the pandemic is very real, and we’re seeing daily increases in cases and in particular in the Downtown Eastside. We have a large population, the largest homeless encampment in the country, and we’re talking about folks who are living in a very damp, boggy park. Folks are in tents without adequate washing facilities and hygiene facilities in the midst of a pandemic. This is a signal that we recognize that we’re on the edge of what could be potentially some really catastrophic outcomes, and I think staff heard that tonight.”

With files from Kareem Gouda