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Vancouver's First United shelter funding extended one year

The B.C. government will continue to fund the First United shelter in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for another 12 months past the original expiration date, according to the shelter's executive director Stephen Gray.

Last December, B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the government would phase out the shelter within "about a year," according to the Globe and Mail.

First United works with both the Carnegie Centre and BC Housing to find permanent residence options for shelter guests. The shelter has found housing for at least 240 people in the last year, according to Gray.

"I think we've been very successful at getting people into housing," he said, adding that follow-up studies from the Carnegie Centre show a high retention rate for housed.

The extension of the funding period, which was originally set to expire on July 31 this year, will allow people to use the shelter while waiting for more affordable housing to become available, according to Gray.

The government is giving up to $1 million of additional funds to the shelter while it continues work on 14 new housing developments being built with help from the City of Vancouver and non-profit housing organizations, according to the BC Housing website.

"This is a temporary program, it was begun in 2008 and it was never intended to be a permanent continuing-forever program, so it's based on meeting a need while housing is being constructed," Gray said.

According to the website, 440 of the expected 1,500 new housing units are currently open, and the remaining units are set to be finished within the next two years.

Gray said without the extension the shelter would not have been able to continue providing services to homeless people in the DTES while those developments continue.

"First United doesn't have the resources to operate a shelter of this scope without government funding, so we wouldn't have been able to continue to do that on our own."

Gray says he is very grateful to BC Housing for showing confidence in the First United shelter program.

"They can count on us to deliver a safe and hospitable program that offers the resources that homeless people need and we're really thankful," he said.

Hanah Redman is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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