News Local

Hundreds ‘turned away’ from Vancouver's homeless shelters

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Weekend sub-zero temperatures left hundreds of homeless “turned away” from four winter shelters in Vancouver, while the extreme weather alert for the city was extended until at least Monday night.

Sean Spear, an associate director with RainCity Housing, said the organization’s 160 beds in four winter shelters have been booked since opening in December, and that nearly 900 visitors have been told there are no vacancies.

“People have died. That’s well documented. The tragedies have happened where people are trying to stay warm, or starting a fire in their makeshift tents, or from hypothermia,” Spear said.

“We’re not ‘turning them away’ at the door. The different facilities that have overflow capacity sometimes are very close.

“That’s when we use things like SafeRide. They can fit a bunch of people in to make sure people can get to other shelters.”

Advocates are hoping the public will donate sleeping bags and warm clothing to local shelters for distribution to those without a place to stay.

Teams from the Extreme Weather Response Program are also on the prowl, offering a place to stay for people who can’t get into more permanent quarters.

Irene Jaakson co-ordinates enough emergency spaces for 200 people, which will be available until at least Monday, when the weather will be reassessed.

“What people can expect are mats on the ground with a blanket. Washroom facilities, definitely, with warm food in the evening and the morning,” she said, adding a list of emergency housing addresses can be found at most shelters.

But the only real fix would be more funding from government to build more permanent social housing, according to Vancouver city Coun. Kerry Jang. He estimates the city needs another 1,000 living units.

“We’re willing to go forward with land. New land to build supportive housing, just like the 14 sites we’re doing right now with the province. We’re ready for round two.”



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