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Province, city eye former jail to house homeless

VANCOUVER - The province and city officials are eyeing the site of Vancouver’s former jail to house people who are homeless.

The old Vancouver Pretrial Centre near the north end of Main Street could hold 100 units of supportive housing. Both provincial and city officials have examined the site, which had been closed since 2002, when it served as a jail connected to the Provincial Court.

“We’re just working within government to identify that particular facility can be transferred to housing,” Housing Minister Rich Coleman told 24 hours in an interview.

“It’s one of the ones we’re looking at.”

Part of the site is now home to the pilot community court project, which pairs offenders with health and social service agencies.

Negotiations are ongoing, but an announcement on the project is expected this month. The city last month committed $5 million to help fund the 100 units of supportive housing as part of an announcement in which the province confirmed it would kick in the money to keep most of Vancouver’s emergency shelters open.

Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, a professor of psychiatry at UBC who specializes in mental illness, said the former jail could be an appropriate location for housing.

“I know it sounds kind of grim, but it’s a pretty good place,” Jang said.

“It’s close to other supportive housing units. If it was on Hastings Street I would have second thoughts, but this is far enough away from the hot zone.”

It’s not the only proposal for the former jail. Some have suggested the site would make an ideal spot for a new Lower Mainland prison after Burnaby rejected dropping a similar facility on Willingdon.

Irwin Loy reports for Vancouver 24 hours.

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