Mayor Gregor Robertson says the city opened a homeless shelter in a downtown Vancouver neighbourhood before it had time to consult local residents because it needed to quickly create spaces for winter. But residents in the area say they're going to fight what they see as a plan that transplants the Downtown Eastside to their neighbourhood.
The angry residents, who live in the district around the north end of the Granville Bridge that's largely been built in the past 30 years, have not heard from any city official or politician about the surprise decision two weeks ago to open a shelter and convert a tourist hotel to housing for the homeless in their small area.
"We didn't sign up for this. I'm worried [the Vision Vancouver councillors] are willing to sacrifice our neighbourhood for their agenda," said Bill Vance, one of a growing group of concerned residents who live in small quadrant bordered by Burrard, Granville, False Creek and Pacific Boulevard.
The city made the announcement that it was opening an emergency winter shelter early at 900 Pacific St., the former Kettle of Fish restaurant, and converting the 157-unit Quality Inn on Howe Street, next to the Granville Bridge, to transitional housing for the homeless for two years before the owner redevelops the property.
Mr. Robertson said city staff have started doing outreach, but that the process is more rushed than usual.
"It is in the context of urgent need to create space before winter. We're on a tight timeline."
Many residents said they only heard about the announcement from television news or word of mouth. It came as the city was trying to clear Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside of campers who had been there for months, saying they were homeless or their rooming houses were too awful to stay in.
In contrast to other housing projects and winter shelters in Vancouver, where the province takes on almost all of the costs, the city is paying for everything up front. The mayor said he's hopeful the province will agree to pitch in later.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman has said that's not going to happen, since the city decided to act on its own.
In the meantime, the city appears to be scrambling to get operators in place for the homeless shelter at 900 Pacific St., open now, and for the Quality Inn, which is due to open in November.
The city's communications department said a couple of times last week, when asked, that a decision on the operator for the two facilities was about to be announced, but then did not have anything finalized by the end of the week.
Some of the city's experienced non-profit housing groups say they're not sure what is happening, as they hadn't heard about a request for proposals or even an informal call for interested operators.
In the meantime, residents are organizing to see what they can do to stop the projects or at least mitigate what they believe will be the impacts.
Mr. Vance, who works in the investment business and moved from a single-family house in Shaughnessy to downtown three years ago, said he felt very safe moving his children to the area originally.
But, he said, since the 900 Pacific St. shelter opened a couple of weeks ago, there have been people screaming at one another in the street outside and needles and condoms have been found near the local Montessori schools.
"What the city's done is despicable," said Mr. Vance. "There's been a complete lack of transparency. And it stinks if the mayor is trying to wrap up people from the park in time for re-election."
Mark Schulhof and Veronica Madore, residents from other buildings nearby, feel the same.
"This is not a strategic approach," said Ms. Madore, who works as a corporate-training manager. "This is purely temporary. At least if there were some sign of what the long-term plan is but there isn't. And this will affect tourism and the retail around that area."