Social agencies to run rooming hotels

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Province picks non-profits for role in Downtown Eastside

Frances Bula

The Park hotel will be added to the stock of dry housing that City Centre Care Society offers for people trying to live without drugs and alcohol after they’ve come out of a detox program

Eleven Downtown Eastside hotels will be turned over to non-profit social agencies to run as of Dec. 1, in a move the province and the agencies say will mean more and better rooms for the homeless and hardest to house.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman is set to announce today the 10 non-profit agencies that have been chosen to run them.

A wide variety of agencies will be named, including one that specializes in native housing, another that deals with women’s housing and two that handle housing specifically for the mentally ill. One agency will operate two hotels.

run other buildings targeted to particular groups of people who are the most vulnerable to homelessness, will gradually add new tenants who are part of their target group to the existing mix.

Two hotels, the Park and the Marble Arch, will be added to the stock of “dry” housing that City Centre Care Society offers for people trying to live without drugs and alcohol after they’ve come out of a detox program.

Most of the others are not like that, instead providing safe and supportive homes to women, aboriginals with HIV, the mentally ill, the addicted or a mix of any of those categories.

Coleman said having non-profit operators, instead of the private ones who ran them before the province bought the hotels last February, means the hotels will be run by people “who have a record of helping people” and who will work to connect their tenants with other kinds of support in the neighbourhood.

For Janice Abbott, the director of Atira Women’s Resource Society, allowing non-profits to run the hotels will make an immediate difference for people living on the street or in precarious situations.

“It will mean that women down here will be far less likely to be evicted. And they’ll be far less likely to be assaulted, raped or harmed in their homes, which means they’re far less likely to leave,” said Abbott, whose group has been given the 43-room Rice Block at Hastings and Hawks to manage.

Atira already runs two buildings in the Downtown Eastside for women and has a waiting list of 400 women for the 36 rooms at Bridge Housing, so the possibility of having more rooms to offer is welcome, she said.

All current tenants in the 11 hotels are being guaranteed they will allowed to stay, so the non-profit groups will only rent rooms to the group they are targeting when vacancies occur.

BC Housing is planning to provide enough money so each operator has at least one person on shift at all times — which operators say is the minimum staffing needed just to keep a lid on difficult situations — and possibly more.

The province bought 10 of the hotels from private owners early this year, in a secret massive two-month buying campaign that no one knew about until Coleman announced it in March.

The city of Vancouver also bought a hotel, the Hells Angels-owned Drake Hotel, later in the year and that is included in the announcement.

Some of the agencies getting hotels to run already have large portfolios, like the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, while others are small. The City Centre Care Society is getting the 145-room Marble Arch and the 56-room Park Hotel to run, which will double the number of rooms it manages.

In the past, critics have said too much low-income housing is concentrated in the Downtown Eastside and the neighbourhood has become a self-perpetuating system of poverty agencies that are more interested in building their empires than solving problems. Coleman rejected that characterization. “The non-profits selected here have a pretty strong track record. They’re groups that have shown they can be successful. I would never characterize them as empire-builders.”

And, he said, the new housing doesn’t concentrate any more housing in the area. It just puts it in the hands of better managers, who can make it work better as a form of transitional housing while the province works to build new social housing throughout the region for the groups of people — mentally ill, drug addicted or both — who tend to end up homeless.

“This allows us to stabilize the housing and give us some stuff now.”

Several housing projects are now under construction in Vancouver, including 200 units that will be part of the Woodward’s complex, a building at 55 West Hastings, and a residence that will be part of the luxury Hermitage project on Richards near Robson.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


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