1,006 units to aid homeless

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Province, city to combine with foundation on $225-million plan

Gery Bellet

A computer rendering envisions the new building at 590 Alexander St. that will provide 139 new apartments for the homeless.

Premier Gordon Campbell has announced a $225-million program to build 1,006 new supportive housing units in Vancouver to deal with the city’s chronic homelessness problem.

The province will provide $205 million for building the apartments on eight city-owned sites — worth $32 million — with the Streetohome Foundation providing $20 million.

“One of the single largest challenges we face in a modern community is homelessness,” said Campbell Tuesday.

“If we are going to meet the challenge we are going to have to do this in partnership.”

However, the premier admitted that in the past the province’s attempts to provide more low-cost housing were stalled because of delays in acquiring zoning or permits. He pointed to the conversion of the Woodward’s site “as a good example.”

“It took from 2002 to 2009-10 to actually get the housing,” he said.

Six supportive housing projects are now under construction in Vancouver. The province is contributing $108 million to build 569 units on city-owned property worth $32 million. The first of those suites should be ready for occupation next year.

Construction on the eight sites would begin later this year subject to municipal approval, said the premier.

Campbell paid tribute to the efforts of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson — who stood alongside him and Housing Minister Rich Coleman during the announcement — for his commitment to tackling homelessness.

“It was important that when Mayor Robertson was elected he decided he would take a focused approach to housing and homelessness,” said Campbell.

“There are six sites under construction. That is significant but equally significant is that today we are announcing a partnership valued at about $225 million — $205 million from the province and $20 million from the private sector, the Streetohome Foundation, to create an additional eight sites and over 1,000 units of housing.”

The eight sites were originally identified by the city and the province for housing in 2007 but no money was forthcoming for development of the sites until Tuesday’s announcement.

Campbell said the housing units were “critically important if we are to break the cycle of homelessness because they will create a sense of stability for the people who live in them and give us an opportunity to connect them with services which are essential as they deal with the challenges of mental health or addiction.”

Robertson said the announcement was a “crucial step forward in ending homelessness in Vancouver.”

“This is great news for everyone,” he said.

“This is the most effective response to homelessness. It’s great news for the region as we recognize homelessness is growing in Greater Vancouver.

“Most of all, its good news for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Housing is essential to making positive changes happen in life. It fosters, dignity, independence and growth.”

Robertson said the cooperation between the city providing land and the province and private sector providing construction costs will make a real difference.

“We have the ability to break the cycle of homelessness in Vancouver if we focus on housing.”

The mayor said this year’s homeless count showed the numbers up by 12 per cent over the last two years.

“It’s very disconcerting but we are seeing people shift inside. With this announcement we will see changes in the years ahead,” he said.

Robertson called on the federal government to get involved in the city’s attempts to overcome homelessness by 2015.

“Hopefully, we’ll see the federal government match the province and the private sector,” he said.

John McLernon, of the Streetohome Foundation, thanked Frank Giustra, Streetohome Campaign chair, for his $5 million donation to the campaign.

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