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'Herculean' task to prepare for Strathcona tent city to be decamped

Last Updated Apr 8, 2021 at 11:49 pm PDT

A homeless camp is pictured in Strathcona Park close to the downtown core of Vancouver, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Summary

Buildings have to be prepped and new tenant support teams have to be hired before people can move in

Older hotels have to be retrofitted and upgraded, while tenant support staff are put in place

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — With the province’s deadline to house some 200 people living in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park looming, organizations that have been chosen to operate new shelters are in a race against time.

Buildings have to be prepped, new teams have to be hired, and decisions have to be made.

The Atira Women’s Resource Society is in the thick of things, having been chosen to operate one location that has been earmarked to house some people currently encamped at Strathcona — just which location isn’t being disclosed yet.

The organization already operates the shelters in the former Howard Johnson on Granville Street and the former youth hostel on Burnaby Street in Vancouver.

“You need to determine how many staff you need based on the size of the building, you need supplies, you need to assess cleanliness. If it’s a hotel, you have rooms that have double beds, two double beds, and single beds, and you have to try to figure out what people go into what rooms,” says Atira CEO Janice Abbott, who calls the task ‘Herculean.’

“The timelines are so quick. When the shelter at the Howard Johnson opened, we had less than two weeks. If you have issues with fire escapes, you can’t do that in two weeks, so you need to do that after it’s open.”

Hotels, she points out, weren’t designed for full-time tenants.

“The buildings are sometimes old and finicky. They were built for tourists instead of the folks that we are seeing here. They aren’t designed to withstand certain behaviors.”

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The Days Inn on Kingsway and the Patricia Hotel have recently been purchased to create shelters, but the Army and Navy on West Hastings and at least one warehouse are also going to be used.

While the sites are being retrofitted, skilled people need to be hired, and Abbott says about 20 staff are needed to run a 100-unit shelter.

“You need staff who are doing front desk work, tenant support work, janitors, and maintenance. The front desk personnel make sure people who are supposed to be in the building are the only ones inside, they do the rounds every hour, they do health and safety checks.”

She admits it’s a challenge to fill positions, especially with a very tight deadline.

“It’s a bit of a scramble. People are cautious about coming to work in the Downtown Eastside so it’s hard to recruit. Plus, all the non-profit operators are all trying to hire people with the same skills.”

She also points out the guests might be less than happy about their new circumstances.

“You are getting folks who are resentful, who might not like the building they’ve been assigned to, who might be struggling with substance use and mental illness. You are definitely hiring staff who are comfortable working in that environment.”

She says providing new homes to the vulnerable is definitely a community effort.

“It sounds corny but it really does take collaboration to make these buildings successful.”