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New homeless shelter won't close gap

Vancouver will reopen another homeless shelter this week, and plans to open two more before the 2010 Winter Games begin on Feb 12. But the city continues to host hundreds more homeless Canadians than shelter beds.

"We have a national homeless crisis," Mayor Gregor Robertson said on Tuesday. "Here in Vancouver, we suffer from a steady flow of people from colder climates."

On Wednesday, Jan. 6th, the city will reopen a 40-bed shelter under the Granville Street bridge that was closed last summer after complaints from nearby residents. This winter, the shelter at 1435 Granville St. will introduce a bed reservation system and will remain open 24 hours a day, in order to reduce lineups and loitering outside the facility.

"We've learned lessons from what happened at those shelters last year," Robertson said.

A community open house will be held on January 20, 2010 to provide information and contacts for neighbours.

The low-barrier Granville shelter, which will be operated by RainCity Housing, is the second of four neighbourhood-based shelters the city plans to open this winter. The first was opened on Dec. 22, 2009, at 677 East Broadway in Mount Pleasant. Similar facilities are planned for Kitsilano and the West End.

The four new temporary shelters will provide about 160 shelter beds, raising the total number of regular shelter beds to about 1,250. Most of those are in professionally managed facilities that offer meals as well as outreach services aimed at connecting homeless clients to interim housing and health care.

That number still falls about 350 beds short of the 1,600-person population enumerated by the last official homeless census in 2008. (The province-wide homeless population has been estimated at up to 15,000 people, or about three homeless Canadians for every athlete invited to the 2010 Winter Games.)

A senior city official acknowledged that the city has not been able to fund the number of shelter beds that are required this winter, but said the city will continue to pursue every opportunities to shelter its homeless.

"We have a huge surge of interest from faith groups that want to support these efforts," Mayor Robertson said. "We've got to stitch all these efforts together in the coming months."

Provincial operating funds for about 500 of Vancouver's planned 1,250 shelter beds are due to run out on April 30. Mayor Robertson promised that the city will not seek to extend the life of these "emergency" shelters.

"Our focus beyond April will be on creating interim housing," said Robertson, who reaffirmed his promise to end street homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.

"It's doable," he said. "It's very doable."

Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.

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