Warehouse for Homeless in 2010

Anti-Olympic activist questions 2010 homeless plan

'Warehouse' rumour prompts freedom of information request

Cheryl Rossi, Vancouver Courier
Published: Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chris Shaw worries the city will "warehouse" people in temporary shelters during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to sweep the city's homelessness problem out of sight.

A rumour that warehouses near Main and Terminal have been leased to give homeless people a place to stay during the Games prompted Shaw to file a freedom of information request with the city.

Shaw, spokesperson for 2010 Watch and the No Games 2010 Coalition, and a Work Less Party candidate for city council, received the information Aug. 11. It revealed that The Gathering Place, a city facility that caters to disadvantaged residents of Downtown South, was planning to submit a proposal to B.C. Housing for money to provide 40 shelter beds in Downtown South from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2010--or, as the document Shaw forwarded to the Courier states, "during the Olympic/Para Olympic period."
People living in tents in Oppenheimer Park may reside elsewhere during the 2010 Games.

A June email between housing planners at the city that refers to The Gathering Place proposal suggests it needs to be considered along with other ideas for addressing shelter needs during the Games. It also states that city staff need to learn more about a proposal by the Evelyne Saller Centre in the Downtown Eastside, which provides support to needy people in partnership with the city and B.C. Housing. Both facilities already provide a place for homeless people to sleep during harsh, inclement weather.

Providing beds for more homeless people during the Games would be better than nothing, Shaw said. "But one has to question, if it's only during the Olympic period, is this a cosmetic thing versus a real attempt to deal with a glaring problem that we have in our city," he added. "Why are they doing it? Why then? Winter sets in in October and November in Vancouver, so why are they starting it in January?"

Jill Davidson, senior housing planner with the city, said the city is working with B.C. Housing to determine what "special efforts" should be made in relation to shelter during the Olympics.

"We know there will be an influx of people coming into the community," Davidson said, adding Salt Lake City, Utah opened additional shelter space during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games because people flooded into the city from other parts of the United States.

She said the influx included, "people, potentially who were homeless, but also people who were looking for work, thinking they might get work when they got there, or young people coming in thinking that they want to find a place and then they can't find a place. It's a whole variety of people."

The main shelter in Salt Lake City, The Road Home, opened 460 extra beds in a former mattress factory in November 2001 for the 2002 Winter Olympics in February 2002. Volunteers ran this shelter until the end of March 2002.

Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, said an average of 300 beds were used each night by people already in the shelter system, a larger contingent of older men who were displaced from cheap hotels, and a smaller number of people who came from out of state looking for work--some in the last group appeared to be very young and had no real plan or winter clothes. Those seeking work were less than a third of the 300 shelter users, Minkevitch estimates.

Dan Garrison, another housing planner with the city, said The Gathering Place has not submitted its proposal to B.C. Housing. (According to the documents obtained by the FOI request, the organization was planning to submit its proposal by July 1.) Garrison characterized The Gathering Place's proposal as "one idea in the mix." He and Davidson said they knew nothing about plans by the Evelyne Saller Centre, despite Davidson's June 26 email to Garrison suggesting they "get more information" on any shelter plans the centre might have.

City staff will report to council, likely in September, about the city's progress in meeting the commitments agreed to by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to minimize problems in Mount Pleasant, Downtown South and the Downtown Eastside. VANOC has pledged to protect rental housing, provide "many alternative forms of temporary accommodation" for visitors and workers, ensure people aren't displaced, evicted or saddled with unreasonable rent increases due to the Games and provide "an affordable housing legacy."

© Vancouver Courier 2008