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Province buys housing units for homeless all over BC

Another fun morning in another unheated brick building being renovated, with the housing crowd in the province as everyone gathered at the St. Helen’s hotel on Granville Street. That was to hear the premier and Housing Minister Rich Coleman announce they had bought 601 new units around the province in 15 buildings, all as part of the province’s ongoing homelessness initiative.

(By the way, this is the third year in a row they’ve made an announcement like this, as we count down to the Olympics. Brings the total number of units they’ve bought now to something like 2,000.)

Of those, six are Downtown Eastside hotels, including what I gather is the infamous Backpackers, between the North Star and Army & Navy.

What was interesting was how many places the province bought outside Vancouver: a motel in Penticton, another motel in Williams Lake, a mobile-home park in Nanaimo, a hotel in Prince George, a former youth-corrections facility in Logan Lake (near Kamloops), a former seniors’ centre in Mission. It’s a sign of how widespread the province’s homelessness problem is. It’s also a positive move for everyone, so that people will maybe someday, someday stop saying that all the problems move to the Downtown Eastside because that’s where the services are.

Total bill, by the way, was $34 million, at an average cost of about $130,000 per unit.

Other random pieces of information I picked up during my morning visit:

Yes, for everyone who has a hard time believing the 12 new social housing sites are going to be built, the tenders are going to go out soon for construction. The Portland Hotel Society’s Main Street site is in line to be the first project to start construction.

No, no one knows yet how the federal infrastructure dollars might be used for any of this. There’s a bit of a tussle going on because the feds have said there’s money available for reno’ing old housing if provinces match the funds. But here in B.C., the province is saying, If we’re going to match funds, we should get a choice in where that money goes, not just only to projects within your narrow definitions of what’s suitable.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman told me after the announcement that two of the sites — the one in Logan Lake and the one in Mission — are going to get some intensive extra support services, akin to what they’re doing at the Burnaby centre that I’ve been writing about the last week. So that will give some out-of-town options to those difficult cases, people who have everything working against them.

I still can’t get over the turnaround in this province since the Liberals cancelled hundreds of social-housing units planned for construction when they first came to power in 2001.

Frances Bula blogs about city life and politics at State of Vancouver.

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