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Downtown homeless shelter has its supporters

IRWIN LOY, 24 HOURS
Housing advocate Wendy Pedersen stands outside a Howe Street shelter in Downtown Vancouver yesterday. A blown-up poster on the wall shows a threatening note attached to a bag of feces that advocates say was thrown from Granville Street Bridge onto the alley outside the shelter last week. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 Hours)

Housing advocate Wendy Pedersen stands outside a Howe Street shelter in Downtown Vancouver yesterday. A blown-up poster on the wall shows a threatening note attached to a bag of feces that advocates say was thrown from Granville Street Bridge onto the alley outside the shelter last week. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 Hours)

Some residents who live near an embattled downtown homeless shelter are coming to its defence, a week before the facility could shut down for good.

Brenda Jamer lives a block away from the shelter near Howe and Beach. While some residents have complained of bad behaviour in the neighbourhood, forcing the closure last month of a nearby shelter on Granville Street, Jamer insists most residents generally support the facility.

"The ones I've spoken with are thoroughly supportive of social housing," Jamer said.

"But they're busy with their daily lives. I think if it was really serious, you'd have a lot more people speaking out."

Jamer, who has lived in the area for 15 years, said she didn't notice any difference on the street when the two shelters came online last winter as part of Vancouver's emergency housing strategy.

"Little has changed here," she said. "It's a downtown urban setting."

Another woman, a 16-year resident who asked that her name not be used, said she supports having shelters in the neighbourhood.

"As long as they're run properly," she said. "At first it wasn't. You could see things were going on in the alley. But things have cleaned up."

The provincial government, which is funding three other shelters to stay open until April 2010, closed down the Granville Street facility last month and gave the remaining Howe Street shelter 30 days to sort out public complaints. The City of Vancouver only began consulting with residents during the past week.

For now, however, advocates say the people who use the remaining shelter are being targeted. Last week, someone dropped a bag of feces from Granville bridge overhead down onto the alley outside the shelter.

"Just f*ck off back to East Van where you all belong," a note tied to the bag reads, according to advocates.

"This is wrong and it's hateful," said Wendy Pedersen, an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project.