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Shelter tug of war ends for another year with the 160 beds city asked for

December 3rd, 2011 · 4 Comments

It’s painful to watch the strange argument that erupts every fall as the city and ministry can’t seem to agree on funding new winter shelter beds.

It ended Friday, with Housing Minister Rich Coleman’s announcement that he’s funding two new shelters (as well as announcing the eventual phasing out of the sometimes controversial First United Church shelter) that will be run the new way that the city introduced three years ago.

It’s painful to watch because Rich Coleman has brought more social housing and housing assistance to B.C. in five years than any province has ever seen. And Vancouver’s Vision party has made tackling homelessness a priority and has put more money into it than any previous administration.

Given the priority both have given this file and their sincere efforts to find solutions, it’s a shame to see the squabbling that breaks out over a program that costs $1.5 million — an amount that could probably be taken from the petty-cash drawer of the health ministry and never be missed.

In spite of the small amount of money, it’s incredibly valuable, getting people out of the alleys, the doorways, the parking lots and various other places where those who are homeless typically sleep during the winter.

Both politicians involved have happy to take credit for what the other has helped initiate or fund. Coleman, while slagging the mayor at his news conference Friday for harping on his “pet projects” that the city is “never” willing to contribute to, was happy to talk about the way street homelessness has fallen from 800 to 145 last winter.

That only happened because the city under Vision insisted on opening a new kind of winter shelter and enticed the province into paying operating costs by offering to put up the buildings and the cost of any renovations needed to them the last three years.

The mayor, for his part, campaigned this fall (and presumably won the election in part because of it) on the statement that his party had reduced street homelessness. Of course, he was only able to do that because the province had poured tens of millions into new social housing, as well as paying for the operation of 1,600 shelter beds, 1,100 of them year-round, 500 extra during the winter.

Given all that, it would be nice for us (the public) and for the homeless themselves if we didn’t have to go through that again. The ministry seems to have moved to adopt the city’s approach this year, by incorporating the winter shelters into its own buildings.

That’s a far better approach than what happened as homelessness tripled between 2001 and 2008, when the province provided only X number of shelter beds, no matter how many people were sleeping on the street.

Maybe next fall, that can unroll smoothly, with the minister announcing the plan early in the fall and the mayor thanking him — something the minister claims Robertson never does, which is untrue — publicly and profusely before the shelters open, expressing the gratitude we all feel that we’re treating people humanely.

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