B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman is flatly rejecting a bid from recently re-elected Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to fund four homeless shelters this winter, insisting there is capacity to meet the need.
Mr. Coleman said Mr. Robertson and his team, coming off a re-election bid that ended last weekend, have been talking about the issue without being in touch with their partners in the B.C. government.
"They do tend to make public comment and not talk to me about it, which is fine. I have always said this is about the people. It's not about accolades. It's not about cutting ribbons. It's not about all of that," Mr. Coleman said. "We're not going to be dictated to by anybody with regards to how we manage this portfolio because it's the provincial government that has been doing this all along, spending all the money."
On Monday, Mr. Robertson told reporters he was confident the province would be open to a new look at Mr. Coleman's assertion last month that his government would not provide $2.5-million to operate four shelters with capacity for 160 people deemed necessary by the city.
Mr. Coleman said Thursday that he knows there is capacity to handle the people now homeless, with 309 new units opened since last winter, and that the province will shortly announce "some pretty innovative stuff" to expand capacity.
He said that last weekend there were emergency shelter beds available in Vancouver, but they were at 50-per-cent capacity. "We weren't full. There's no sense in opening something you don't need," he said. "If they want to open the HEAT shelters themselves, they will pay for it themselves. We won't be funding those."
HEAT refers to the Homeless Emergency Action Team shelters, first launched in 2008 to help out in very cold weather.
Mr. Coleman said he has no plans to contact the mayor on the issue, noting the city has yet to make any formal request beyond comments to the media.
"They haven't talked to me about any of the things they said publicly," he said. "I just know we have got a strategy. We're going to follow through on the strategy. We will continue to do that for people who need shelter."
A spokesman for Mr. Robertson said the mayor is standing by his comments on the matter.