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Vancouver plan would house 550 homeless by end of year

A proposal to provide 550 rooms for the homeless will go before Vancouver City Council this afternoon.

If approved, the $52.5 million plan would provide interim housing and support services for hundreds of street homeless until permanent supportive housing is completed sometime between 2011 and 2014.

The city’s interim housing strategy would provide 550 new housing units by the end of year: 190 rooms of modular housing on city owned land, 250 rooms in leased residency hotels, and 110 rooms in converted government-owned buildings.

Funding for the five-year plan would flow from three sources: the city would provide $13 million in capital improvements and lease costs, private sector donations would cover $12 million in capital improvements, and the province would pay $27.5 million for operating costs.

"With this plan, we are driving forward on the success of the HEAT shelters, which showed how effective the City, the Province, and the private sector can be when we work together," Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a mid-day press release. "I am hopeful that the Provincial Government and the private sector will work with us to make it happen."

The idea of housing the homeless in modular structures was proposed last year by local architects Michael Geller and Gregory Henriquez. The city has identified two city-owned sites at which modular homeless housing may be appropriate:

The empty land adjacent to the Drake Hotel at 606 Powell St. could support an 80-room facility. Geller and Associates has proposed building modular housing on this site.

The Old Continental Hotel site at 1390 Granville St. could support a 110-room facility. An Henriquez and Partners proposal is under consideration for this site.

The city is also in discussions with the owners of "two or three" residential hotels, which could provide up to 250 additional units of interim housing. The city would presumably lease those hotels, and rent the rooms to the homeless at welfare rates.

And the city is in discussions with the province to convert existing Government-owned buildings into secure rooms for the homeless. The city propose to contribute up to $10,000 per unit to renovate buildings such as the former remand centre -- located above the new Downtown Community Court on Gore -- into housing.

These ideas are similar to those proposed by local housing experts in a 'Tyee report published last fall.

The proposal goes before council this afternoon, and is expected to be approved by the Vision Vancouver dominated body.

Monte Paulsen reports on politics and policy for The Tyee.

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