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Vancouver planning more homeless shelters

The City of Vancouver is hunting for buildings in which to establish four or more temporary homeless shelters this winter.

"City staff are out looking at a number of sites right now," Councillor Kerry Jang told The Tyee. "They’re figuring out how much work needs to be put in to these buildings. Do they have sprinklers? Do they have enough bathrooms? Stuff like that."

Jang said the city will require financial support from the province, the private sector, and/or faith communities in order to open more shelters this winter.

"Our problem is that we just don't have the money to open these places on our own," Jang said. "We're negotiating with the province for support."

The Vision Vancouver councillor would not identify the locations of buildings under consideration to become temporary shelters.

"Think of places in this city where there there are large homeless populations: Kitsilano, Downtown South, Grandview-Woodlands. Anywhere we know there's a homeless population that’s underserved," Jang said.

One of the sites being studied is near the intersection of East 10th Avenue and Victoria Drive, The Tyee has learned.

Jang said these new shelters would be smaller than the HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) shelters opened this time last year, and would remain open 24 hours a day in order to avoid dispatching crowds of homeless into surrounding neighbourhoods every morning. He said the city is also looking at the idea of creating "warming centres" that would be open only during business hours.

"As soon as we figure out which sites are workable - and the province ponies up some dough - then we'll start a permit process," Jang said. "None of these facilities will be opened without a public development permit hearing."

It costs about $36 to shelter a homeless person for one night. By the end of last winter, roughly 500 people were sleeping in Vancouver's temporary homeless shelters every night. Three of those five HEAT shelters remain open this winter, providing about 340 beds.

"We’re facing a gap of at least 700 shelter beds this winter, and with the weather getting colder, we need to be doing everything we can to help people off the streets and indoors," Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a news release.

Robertson and Jang met with 40 representatives of Vancouver's faith organizations on Monday, seeking advice and support for the city's efforts to help the homeless. Additional sites for prospective shelters were suggested at that meeting.

"A number of churches have space in their basements," Jang said. "We're looking at those, too."

British Columbia hosts a homeless population estimated to range between 10,000 and 15,000 people. On average, a homeless person dies every 12 days in this province, according to statistics complied by the B.C. Coroner's office.

Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.

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