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VANOC plan a boon for homeless efforts: mayor

A Sunshine Coast mayor said a new housing plan put forward by VANOC and the province will provide a “significant boost” in local efforts to fight homelessness.

Premier Gordon Campbell announced 156 affordable housing units for six B.C. communities at a press conference on Tuesday.

The homes will be reconfigured from 320 units located at the Whistler Olympic Village and transported across the province when the 2010 winter games are over.

“I think it’s a significant boost for us here,” Sechelt Mayor Cameron Reid said.

According to the agreement between VANOC and the province, Sechelt will receive eight social housing units that could hold up to 16 people. The units will be located on old federal government lands the town acquired at no cost.

The Sunshine Coast community of 9,000 has a larger homelessness population than most people think, the mayor explained.

According to research cited by Reid, the region is home to 200 homeless people out of a total population near 30,000. That’s resulted in an increasingly visible housing problem on Sechelt’s streets.

“To the surprise of many, there is a problem,” he said. “We’ve had people sleeping at the entrance to a church or sleeping in cardboard boxes."

Asked if eight homes seemed a little small given the town’s housing problem, the mayor disagreed.

“I think it will make a dent,” he said. “It’s a good start.”

VANOC will contribute $9.4 million for the construction of the units at Whistler while the province has pledged over $20 million to reconfigure and transport the homes. Chetwynd, Chilliwack, Enderby, Saanich and Surrey will also receive units.

Reid said his community was selected for the housing plan because it has been involved in several homelessness initiatives such as plans for a new support and counselling centre.

He said more towns should show leadership on the issue.

“Municipal governments have historically looked over potholes and sidewalks,” Reid said. “They generally haven’t been involved in housing.”

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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