A temporary modular-housing project opened Friday on Vancouver’s east side, replacing a tent city with shelter and health services for 39 people who were previously homeless.
Mayor Gregor Robertson said the opening of Chartrand Place, in addition to the temporary-housing units already opened, brings the city halfway to its goal to build 600 of the units. The project fits into a larger provincial plan to create 2,000 temporary-housing spaces across the province in modular units, which can be assembled quickly to address local homelessness and moved if those needs change.
“When we get the sites identified, we can get them built in a couple of months and that’s been a fantastic breakthrough for us in getting people housed this year, but there’s still a ways to go,” Mr. Robertson said.
He said it took 90 days to build the 39 units, which will be rented for the standard social-assistance shelter rate of $375 per month. The units are each 250 square feet, including kitchenettes and bathrooms. Seven are accessible by wheelchair.
The modular-housing project was built on a city-owned site that was previously a homeless encampment that became known as Sugar Mountain because of its proximity the B.C. Sugar Refinery.
B.C.’s housing minister, Selina Robinson, noted that several of Chartrand Place’s new tenants were once residents of Sugar Mountain.
“It broke my heart to see seniors, pregnant women, young and vulnerable people having to make home on a piece of land that had nothing, that was by a roadway with speeding cars going past, no place for them to use the washroom,” Ms. Robinson said.
“I see today as a victory because now people have a safe and stable place to call home.”
BC Housing contracted PHS Community Services Society to provide 24/7 support to the building’s residents.
Duncan Higgon of PHS said in addition to the tent city, tenants primarily came from the nearby community.
“We also looked to nearby shelters, emergency weather-response centres, and we have a few transfers from [single-room accommodations] who would benefit from the services here whose spots were then filled by others facing street or shelter homelessness,” Mr. Higgon said.
PHS, which also co-manages Insite, Canada’s first supervised-injection site, will encourage residents who are addicted to drugs to use them in community spaces, which would allow staff to watch and respond if necessary.
“As we address this issue of homelessness, we know that a critical piece of that is those 24/7 services,” said Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction.“It is meals, mental health and addiction treatment, life skills and employment support for people who are looking to grab onto opportunities moving forward.”
Chartrand Place was named after one of the original residents of the Portland Hotel, Michel Chartrand, who died in 2003 from AIDS-related complications.
“We named this building after Michel because his story is a tale of hope and resilience, such as we see every day on the Downtown East Side,” said PHS executive director Jennifer Breakspear.
While 55-year-old Dean Wilson won’t be one of the residents at Chartrand Place, he has lived in a PHS-operated Woodward’s Community Housing for eight years, and believes providing stabilized housing to people will solve several of Vancouver’s problems.
“People who live in this housing will be really grateful and they’ll start changing their tune,” said Wilson, who also Gotworks for Insite. “This is where the community starts saying: ‘You’re a real human being, you deserve this.’ Treat people well and they’ll look after themselves.”
A women-only shelter, operated by Atira Women’s Resource Society, will open 39 more units on Powell Street in two weeks, and both buildings will stay open for five to 10 years, the City of Vancouver said.
Ms. Robinson said all of the 2,000 units of the modular-housing units promised by the NDP government seven months ago have been allocated to communities across B.C., with more than 1,600 currently in development.
The government’s 2018 budget promised an additional 2,500 homes with 24/7 support for people experiencing, or at risk for, homelessness.