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Less funding approved as United Church homeless shelter struggles in Vancouver

The main men's dorm room at First United Church a low-barrier shelter in Vancouver's downtown Eastside December 6, 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Slated to lose its provincial government funding at the end of the month, the shrinking First United Church shelter is being given one last, smaller installment. The money is an effort to help the shelter continue to shuttle the homeless into the province's new permanent housing.

The smaller funding amount – up to $1-million for the year – is because of the shelter's decreased patronage, said Stephen Gray, the acting executive director.

"There's been a gradual reduction in beds over the last several months," said Mr. Gray of the formerly 200-bed shelter. "So we're now down to about 75 [beds] in the shelter."

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The shelter agreed to downsize and partner with B.C. Housing to find permanent homes for its regular residents, he said. Over the past year, the government's partnership with the shelter and other non-profit housing providers has found housing for almost 240 people.

"We have already opened more than 400 supportive apartments in the City. More than 1,000 are still being created to help current shelter users and others in the community find appropriate housing and break the cycle of homelessness," said Rich Coleman, Minister Responsible for Housing.

After downsizing, the shelter has had to turn away about eight to 10 people every night since the beginning of May. For most of the homeless, the workers can not find another bed in the city.

"Whenever there's a limited number of beds, you're always going to have more people coming than you can house on any given night," said Mr. Gray.

But the number of people they reject has not changed dramatically since the shelter became smaller, he said. Mr. Gray partially attributes that to the new housing options available in the city.

Mr. Gray is optimistic that the smaller shelter size will allow for better service. "We'll be able to work quite intensively with the folks that are going to be staying in our shelter program to identify what their needs are, what their challenges are, and to help them make the transition into appropriate housing," he said.

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