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Three HEAT shelters to remain open, housing to be built

VANCOUVER - B.C. Minister of Housing and Social Development, Rich Coleman announced today that three of the five controversial HEAT shelters will remain open, with one more to be assessed.

“What we’re not going to do is take a step backwards. We’re not going to walk away on our responsibility to the people who are homeless,” Coleman said today in a press conference with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The shelters -- which opened in December of 2008 in response to an extremely cold winter as part of the Mayor's Homeless Emergency Action Team -- were originally set to close in March, but additional provincial funding extended their mandate until June 30.

Today it was announced that three of those five shelters will remain open until April 30, 2010: the New Fountain Shelter on Cordova Street, the Northern St. Shelter on Northern Street, and the First United Church on Hastings.

The three shelters have a total of 340 beds.

One shelter on Howe Street with 36 beds will undergo a 30-day community consultation process. Neighbours have complained that the shelters are causing chaos and disruption in the surrounding streets.

If those concerns can be addressed, the Howe Street shelter will also remain open until April 30, 2010. The shelter will remain open while the neighborhood consultation is taking place.

The remaining 36-bed shelter on Granville Street will close tomorrow, July 1, in response to similar concern from nearby residents about the behavior of people using the shelter.

Robertson said he hopes removing the Granville Street shelter -- which is located directly across an alley from the Howe Street shelter -- will complement stricter policies announced last Thursday that ban problematic shelter-users, in order to further alleviate the problems in the neighborhood.

Coleman and Robertson both said that closing the shelter was an important step to gaining the trust and support of the community for upcoming projects.

“As we try to build more supportive housing for people with mental health and addiction, so they can transition from the street to having a quality of life to change their lives, we need those neighborhoods as partners,” said Coleman.

The province and the city also announced that $5 million has been earmarked to begin building 100 temporary housing units that will be ready for this winter. These units are the beginning of the 550 the city called for last week.

“Our overarching goal right now is to get people from the street into shelters, from shelters into interim housing, and interim housing into permanent housing. The sooner we can get permanent housing the better,” said Robertson.

He said the 100 units were the first step in that direction, and that the 450 remaining temporary housing units will be further negotiated.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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