VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – One week to go before Strathcona Park is meant to be emptied of its tent city. Meantime, the City of Vancouver and the province have been buying up hotels to provide shelter.
Just last week, the city announced it had bought the Best Western on Kingsway in Mount Pleasant. It’s only a block away from the former Biltmore hotel, also on Kingsway, which was converted into supportive housing seven years ago.
A member of a housing advisory board has concerns that more vulnerable people are coming to his neighbourhood, and that they are being situated close to each other.
“We have two facilities within a block of each other. You got them next door to each other? It makes no sense,” says Don Gardner, with the Biltmore Shelter Advisory Committee.
He says the announcement came as a surprise, even though rumours had been circulating. He feels housing for people with addictions and other problems should be spread around the city.
When the Biltmore opened in 2014, it was touted as low-barrier, meaning residents weren’t required to abstain from drugs or alcohol. Gardner feels placing more social housing in such close proximity to each other doesn’t give homeless folks enough of a chance to escape negative influences.
He says another unknown is how much support will be made available to the newcomers. He fears the effort to shelter doesn’t go far enough.
“Warehousing people is not a solution. That’s not how people get better. That’s not how people get their lives back. Throwing them into an SRO is outrageous.”
In the seven years he has belonged to the advisory council, Gardner has often been critical of how the Biltmore housing has been operated, saying he sees little evidence of support by Vancouver Coastal Health. He believes it has fallen short on promises to include wrap-around services.
“They are taking people off the street and throwing them into a room, saying they’re solving homelessness and they’re doing a good job but the funding is not there to provide appropriate programming.”
Raincity Housing operates the Biltmore, and tells NEWS 1130 the “building is staffed 24/7 with support workers that work alongside residents to achieve their self identified goals.” Its website says “tenants drive all of the programming, which can include everything from AA meetings, to communal meals, to Art Nights.”
It’s not known which organization will operate the Best Western shelter, but Gardner hopes it is Raincity.
“Then you have at least the same operator for both buildings within a block of each other, so that if something is happening on the street, they know which building to go after.”
The city’s goal is to have the Best Western ready for tenants this summer.