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Canada Vancouver unveils new supportive housing units to help homelessness crisis

British Columbia’s housing minister emphasized the importance of different levels of government working together, as she announced a new supportive housing project with the City of Vancouver on Sunday.

The announcement by Selina Robinson came the day after residents were forced out of a homeless camp in the nearby municipality of Maple Ridge, and Robinson expressed frustration at a lack of local political will to approve similar projects there.

“Working together towards a common purpose, we can achieve true progress,” Robinson said at the unveiling of Nora Hendrix Place.

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The project will provide 52 temporary modular homes to those in need, bringing the total number of supportive housing units opened in Vancouver over the past year and a half to more than 600.

Located in the city’s Strathcona neighbourhood, which was the centre of Vancouver’s black community until the mid-20th century, the building will prioritize housing black and Indigenous residents.

Members of Hogan’s Alley Society, a non-profit dedicated to redressing the displacement of the black community from Strathcona, celebrated the announcement of Nora Hendrix Place on Sunday.

June Francis, co-chair of the society, said a vibrant black community just east of downtown was displaced when the city bisected it with viaducts, which Mayor Kennedy Stewart has vowed to remove.

“That monument to our oppression,” she said, gesturing to the Georgia Viaduct, “was what displaced our community, it displaced our hope, it displaced our dreams, it displaced our businesses.”

Nora Hendrix Place is named for musician Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother, who was a prominent member of the Hogan’s Alley community before it was demolished in the mid-20th century.

Each of the new units in Nora Hendrix Place measures 320 square feet with a bathroom and kitchen, and six of them are wheelchair accessible.

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Residents will pay a monthly rent of $375, which is the social assistance shelter allowance provided by the provincial government.

The 52 new homes are the latest of the more than 2,000 units the province committed to building in the fall of 2017.

The province says the building will also provide meal programs, skills training, health and wellness services and opportunities for volunteer work.

“With the opening of Nora Hendrix Place, more than 50 people who have experienced homelessness in Vancouver now have a safe, warm home to call their own,” Stewart said in a statement.

Robinson said she would love to see a similar project launched in Maple Ridge, describing the situation there as “urgent” after homeless residents of the Anita Place tent city were evacuated on Saturday. But she said the province’s pitches have met with rejection in that community.

The evacuation order followed three serious fires at the camp over the span of two days this week. Campers have been offered emergency support services like shelter and food, but have said longer term solutions are needed.

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“We’ve been working for months with the City of Maple Ridge to make multiple suggestions and offers for delivering the kind of housing people need and are desperate for. It’s been really, I have to say, frustrating to move forward,” Robinson said.

“We’ve come forward with a number of different opportunities to do that, a number of suggestions, and we keep getting refused.”

The City of Maple Ridge said in a news release Thursday that Mayor Mike Morden asked for a continued commitment from the province to invest $60 million towards social housing and additional financial support to address the costs associated with the Anita Place camp, during a meeting with ministers on Feb. 25.

Morden could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.

“Right now, his response is that he wants to build housing for a range of people in his community and I agree, we need to do that. But we also absolutely need to build housing for the people who are most vulnerable in his community,” said Robinson.

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