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Robertson puts HEAT on Vancouver homelessness

In his first morning on the job, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced the creation of 150 new beds to shelter the homeless overnight at First United Church on Hastings Street.

Robertson also announced the creation of a Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) that will for the next 90 days focus city, provincial, non-profit and private sectors on homeless solutions that can be implemented immediately.

"Ending street homelessness is this council's top priority," Robertson told his first official press conference. "For now, our focus is on getting as many people as possible off the streets as quickly as possible."

Robertson said the creation of 150 new shelter spaces at First United was an example of how the action-oriented HEAT team would work. That deal began with a Sunday night phone call between Robertson and First United pastor Ric Matthews. But late last night, the city, the province, and sister congregation St. Andrews Wesley had each committed $10,000 to enable First United – which has long operated as a daytime-only shelter – to hire additional staff and re open its doors between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., beginning next Monday night.

"This will only help 150 people," Matthews said. "There are hundreds more in need. But it's a good start."

The HEAT team will meet at least weekly, and will report back to mayor and council every 30 days, Roberton said. Team members are:

Mayor Robertson,

Janice Abbott of Atira Women's Resource Society,

Chief Jim Chu of the Vancouver Police Department,

Dr. Patricia Daly of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority,

David Eby now of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association,

Michael Flanigan of the city's Real Estate Services office,

Judy Graves of the city's homeless Outreach office,

Cameron Gray of the city's Housing Centre,

Coun. Kerry Jang,

Coun. Raymond Louie,

John MacKay of Strand Development and the Street To Home Foundation,

Shane Ramsay of BC Housing, and

Patrick Stewart of the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee.

"The HEAT team will be identifying locations for immediate shelters, working to fast-track development, and coordinating across different sectors," Robertson said.

"This is a team that can be more nimble, that can meet on a moment's notice. We need the 'doers,' and that's who we've got," Robertson said.

Monte Paulsen reported the recent Tyee series, How to End Homelessness.

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