While residents were riled about the temporary shelter opening next week in the downtown, RainCity Housing operations manager George Simpson was taking a laid-back approach.
He’d been through the scenario before when people who live or do business in an area learn that a shelter is about to become their neighbour.
Simpson was in the former Sleep Shop building on Lougheed Highway before the open house on Thursday. Next month the shelter will open its doors to 40 homeless people, allowing the city to clear out the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue.
“We know this works. We know there hasn’t been huge community impacts once we’re open,” he said.
RainCity in recent years has opened 16 shelters in the Vancouver area, he points out.
“It’s going to work fine.”
With B.C. Housing paying $550,000 operating costs and the city paying the monthly rent and renovation charges, the shelter is only to open for six months.
But what happens in April, when the weather improves, asked Joanne Pinkney, with Maple Ridge Pool and Spa Centre. Her business on Cliff Avenue has had tents and campers just steps from her front door for the past six months and she’s worried once spring comes, they’ll be back again.
Still, “It’s a step in the right direction,” Pinkney said.
Lisa Sullivan, who lives in a house along Cliff Avenue, wanted reassurance that the shelter will connect people with services so it doesn’t become another place to party.
“My kids are happy to have their street back,” she added, anticipating the clearing of Cliff Avenue.
Jesse Stretch, who’s been picking up used needles from parks and playgrounds the last few months and who’s organizing a Community Block Party in Memorial Peace Park this Sunday to celebrate the impending clearout of the camp, agreed that the temporary shelter is a sign of progress, but he doesn’t like the downtown location.
“With the time constraints, it’s something.”
And it gives people on Cliff Avenue respite.
But he said his group, Concerned Citizens Standing up for a Better Community, wants to keep responding to issues before and as they develop.
Simpson said the shelter will give people all the basic needs. Hot meals will be brought in twice daily from another RainCity shelter in Vancouver. Washrooms and laundry are on site, as well as an lounge and outdoor smoking area.
“You don’t really have to go around the neighbourhood to meet all your needs.”
There’s also a small storage area. If shopping carts become an issue, the shelter will work with the city to find additional storage.
At least two staff will be in the dorm-type shelter at a time and there will be daily litter patrols. Staff will circulate among residents constantly. People will be allowed to stay in all day, eliminating the lineups that happen when doors open in shelters that have restricted hours.
“For the first month, people are pretty much sleeping a lot,” Simpson said.
It takes awhile for people to get out of survival mode. Then, as relationships build with outreach workers and staff, connections are made, people are found housing and services they need.
Hundreds have been helped that way, added another RainCity employee.
A fence will separate the entrance from Lougheed Highway.
“We want the site to be very private from the street, and vice versa.
“We really try to encourage people to be good neighbours and respect the community they’re in, and typically, they do,” Simpson said.