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New women's SRO hotel for the Downtown Eastside

Today's opening of the newly renovated Rainier Hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was hailed as a "community victory" by its proponents.

"We're here today because this building represents homes," PHS Community Services Society founder Liz Evans said at the opening. "It represents a hope for women in our community. It's better than an alley, it's better than a doorway, and it's better than a tent. It's not better than purpose-built social housing, but it is home."

The Rainier will provide 41 beds for women at risk of homelessness. It is one of six single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels bought by the provincial government early last year.

Rich Coleman, BC Minister of Housing and Social Development, said the purchase and renovation of the SRO hotels could not have occurred without a successful partnership between non-profit societies and all levels of government.

"We've got 23 SRO hotels in Vancouver -- over 1370 units -- that are now today renovated, or in the process of renovation, for projects just like this," Coleman said.

But Coleman warned there is still a long way to go. "We must continue to be vigilant on every opportunity we have," he said. "Housing with supports is the absolute key here. Just to have concrete, or wood, or construction in a unit means nothing if the people inside the unit don't have the opportunity to change their lives. We need to provide them supports for their addictions, their mental illness, and other issues they may face in their lives."

20 beds at the Rainier will be reserved for a treatment stabilization program for women who have recently gone through drug or alcohol detox. Vancouver Coastal Health will operate the program, which includes a full-time nurse for tenants.

Evans said she hopes Rainier's stabilization program will provide relief to InSite’s recovery program.

"What we've seen at the injection site, InSite, is that as people have moved upstairs to the detox and transitional housing, we've had a backlog. It's a model that works, but we can't meet the need," Evans said. "The Rainier will be able to help women in the community, specifically women grappling with their addictions, who need supportive housing and programs in order to find stability in their lives."

Admission to Rainer’s treatment program will come through open community referrals. "We wanted to be as close to the street as possible, so that people who know women in crisis and need support can get it to them as fast as possible,” Evans said. “We're hoping that we can fast track them to a detox bed in order to get them into the stabilization program.”

The other 21 rooms in the Rainier will be managed by the PHS Community Services Society. Room applications will be handled by the BC Housing Coordinated Tenant Selection (CTS) service. Rent at the Rainier will be on-par with B.C.'s shelter allowance.

The B.C. government spent $9.5 million to purchase and renovate the Rainier, and Health Canada will provide $5 million over the next four and a half years to fund the hotel operation.

The Rainier was previously owned by developer Robert Wilson, who had previously purchased at least 6 SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside.

Sean Casey reports for the Hook.

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