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Vancouver homeless shelters brimming: 1,300 seek refuge nightly

An average of 280 homeless people a night jammed into emergency shelters opened by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's “action team” during the last three weeks, the mayor's office announced Tuesday.

The temporary shelter spots in a church, an old hotel and an empty city building supplemented some 750 permanent shelter spots already open in the city and another 350 or so “extreme” beds that open only during severe weather.

In the first two weeks of opening, more than 4,000 visits were recorded.

That includes some 210 people who stayed nightly at the Downtown Eastside's First United Church, which will stay open for the next two months because of $10,000 contributions from the city, the province, the private sector Streettohome Foundation and the St. Andrew's-Wesley Church.

A city-owned building at 1435 Granville Street has been home to 33 people each night, while a section of the Stanley New Fountain Hotel, also in the Downtown Eastside, has hosted 37 people nightly.

Another shelter along Northern Way, which was part of the latter trio announced by the city, province and the Streettohome Foundation, is expected to open next week and hold up to 100 people.

All were announced as temporary shelters with enough funding to open overnight for 90 days.

“The fact that these no-barrier shelters filled up within days of opening shows how dire the situation on our streets is,” Robertson said in a news release.

City outreach worker Judy Graves said the shelter strategy has been “incredibly successful” in getting people off the streets during the region's recent cold snap.

“I think that if there hadn't been this very sudden partnership between the province and the city getting these shelters opened, we would not have been prepared for the weather we just had,” Graves said.

It also combats the assumption, Graves said, that homeless people don't want to come inside.

“This idea that they all choose to be out there, it sort of blows that out of the water,” she said. “Everybody is soaked through the skin right now and shouldn't be left outside.”

The most recent homeless tally, conducted last spring, counted at least 1,547 street homeless in Vancouver and 2,592 in Metro Vancouver.

Irwin Loy reports for Vancouver's 24 hours.

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