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The Globe and Mail

Robertson presses province for shelter money

Dave (first name only) a homeless man sits on the corner of Burrard St. and West Georgia St. in Vancouver in January, 2011.

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

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson continued on Monday to press the provincial government to fund four cold-weather shelters despite the flat refusal of B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman.

Mr. Robertson told reporters that the four facilities – which provided shelter over the last two winters for as many as 160 people in the city's west side and west end – are "critical to make sure people can get off the streets in winter."

"We need the province to carry their share of this to make sure there aren't people stuck outside," he said. "It's important to have that support outside of the Downtown Eastside. If we can get even a couple of those open it will make a real difference."

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Mr. Robertson said he planned to continue negotiations with B.C. Housing and the Premier.

"The housing is coming but it's not coming fast enough," he said.

The province funded the four shelters over the last two winters, but Mr. Coleman told reporters in October that there were no plans to provide the $2.5-million needed to operate them this year.

He said he talked with Mr. Robertson on Saturday and told him that the additional facilities weren't needed this year, as emergency shelters were operating at only 50-per-cent capacity during the last cold snap.

He added that the province opened 300 new units over the summer and that an additional 200 units would be opened by the end of December.

"Any time you have partnerships … they want to do it one way [and]we might want to do something different," Mr. Coleman said. "Our people are the ones that are paying the bills, so we said we want it to go this way and we think we can do it more efficiently."

Although the city provides the buildings for the shelters, the shelters rely on provincial money to cover daily operational costs.

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Homelessness has been a focal point throughout Mr. Robertson's time as mayor. He pledged to end street homelessness by 2015 as part of his initial mayoral campaign in 2008. And he referenced the same promise in his victory speech following his re-election this month.

Since 2008, the number of unsheltered homeless people in Vancouver fell from 815 to 145, according to the 2011 Metro Vancouver homeless count. The same survey indicated that despite the drop in street homelessness, the overall homeless population in the Metro Vancouver region remained nearly unchanged between 2008 and 2011.

The province is providing $8-million over three years for 340 year-round spaces in three HEAT shelters, according to B.C. Housing data. HEAT refers to the Homeless Emergency Action Team. The program was created in 2008 after a partnership between the province, the City of Vancouver and the private sector. It aims to help people get off the streets and into shelters and temporary housing.

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