The Vancouver Park Board is pushing forward with its plans to secure temporary housing for homeless campers in Strathcona Park, including at a city-owned hostel on the city’s west side.
The announcement today follows the securing of the two low-end accommodations as emergency shelters for the homeless by city council back in October.
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The move is part of Vancouver City Council’s direction this past October that passed Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s motion to spend up to $30 million for emergency homeless housing.
The inclusion of the heritage Jericho Hostel and the 2400 Motel properties as emergency housing came as an amendment moved by COPE councillor Jean Swanson and seconded by Stewart.
“I’m thinking that we need to house all 750 unhoused, unsheltered Vancouver residents and that this is key,” said Swanson at the time. “If we only house a few of them, then the other ones will go to various encampments because they have no alternative.”
The Jericho Hostel at 1515 Discovery Street is owned by the municipal government, under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Park Board. The property in West Point Grey is wedged between Jericho Beach Park and Locarno Beach.
This three-storey hostel building — featuring 285 beds in 14 dormitories and 10 family/private rooms — was originally part of the barracks of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Jericho Beach Station in the area, which significantly expanded during the Second World War.
Hostelling International has been operating the property for several decades, but it has been temporarily closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2400 Motel at 2400 Kingsway is located at the western corner of the intersection of Kingsway and East 33rd Avenue.
This 1950s-era motor inn has 65 rooms scattered in a number of single-storey buildings in a car-oriented complex. About five years ago, the federal government leased the property as temporary accommodations for Syrian refugees.
On Monday, the city said staff are working to activate these facilities as soon as possible, including applying for operating funding from the province, notifying the surrounding communities, planning and implementing renovations, and securing non-profit operators.
“The status quo at Strathcona Park is not okay,” said Vancouver Park Board Chair Camil Dumont. “We need a resolution to the encampment. I am very encouraged by the work of our partners which aims to ensure indoor space that is as dignified and as safe as possible is made available.”
Once indoor spaces are available for people staying in Strathcona Park, the Park Board has authorized General Manager Donnie Rosa to enforce the Parks Control bylaw prohibition against overnight camping in the park. Park board commissioners have directed Rosa to prepare an injunction to enforce the order on campers at the park, but it will only be considered for use after the indoor shelter locations are secured.
However, the park board said the goal of all of the partners “is to work together and with people experiencing homelessness in the park to support their voluntary transition indoors.”
In the meantime, while work continues to bring the additional temporary spaces online, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver are working together to plan interim essential services for people sleeping in Strathcona Park.
“This winter is particularly difficult,” said the city’s General Manager of Arts, Culture and Community Services, Sandra Singh. “The combination of the pandemic and the falling temperatures is making a difficult situation even worse, and we are in active discussions with the province regarding funding to provide shelter and housing options as soon as we can.”
In addition, a Fire Chief’s Order was issued on June 25, 2020 to outline fire safety regulations for those living in the park. Enforcement of the order, or any new order, will include the removal of propane tanks and flammable materials, as well as ensure proper spacing of tents and structures to limit the risk of fire spread.
Separately, the city has applied for funding of up to $51.5 million to create permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness through the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative, and is anticipating a response in the near future.
City staff continue to actively work to house people experiencing homelessness at the park while these indoor solutions are being organized, with the ultimate goal being decampment into permanent shelter options.
“There is still much to do,” said Dumont. “We strive to ensure that Strathcona Park will again, soon, be a space that is welcoming and accessible to all.”
With files from Kenneth Chan