The strategy to prevent homelessness that Vancouver pioneered seven years ago, with shelters open 24/7 throughout the winter, is now spreading to the suburbs.
But Vancouver will not get any additional provincial money this year for its winter shelters, which the city launched in 2009 as part of the new Vision Vancouver party's push to eliminate street homelessness. Before that, the province paid only for shelters in churches and community spaces on unusually cold or wet winter nights.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman has announced almost $1-million for two new winter shelters in Maple Ridge and Surrey – 40-bed facilities that will be open every day between October or November and next March.
In an interview on Wednesday, he said those shelters are "not unlike what we've done in Vancouver."
"It gives us an opportunity, like we do at other shelters, where outreach workers can bring [people] off the streets and connect them to housing," Mr. Coleman said.
Homelessness in some Lower Mainland suburbs has been increasing, and councils have struggled to handle high numbers of people sleeping on the streets or in impromptu camps.
Mr. Coleman confirmed that Vancouver will get the same amount it received last year, although it had asked for more. The province funded 110 beds last year, down from 160 when the strategy started.
"Every year, there's a push and pull," he said.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and other city officials have said during the past week they are in negotiation with B.C. Housing, the agency responsible for social housing, but Mr. Coleman said the number of shelter spaces will not increase.
The minister also said B.C. Housing will assess at the end of this winter whether providing the extra services in the region has affected the number of homeless people in Vancouver.
Housing advocates say the Vancouver-style winter shelters provide a significant advantage over the old cold- and wet-weather shelters. The winter shelters provide food and give homeless people a place to stay inside 24 hours a day. They also allow outreach workers to establish a better relationship with them and try to find them permanent housing.
Mr. Robertson declined to say if he was disappointed the province will fund only the same number of shelter spaces as last year.
He provided only a circumspect e-mail statement through his staff.
"We are looking at a number of options in partnership with B.C. Housing to address not just winter shelters but long-term, stable housing for people on the streets or at risk of homelessness," the statement said. "Discussions are under way, and I look forward to building on the work we've accomplished with the province to date."
Vancouver's winter shelters opened in January, 2009. The first year, the city, the charitable group Streetohome Foundation and the province pitched in to pay for 320 beds at five sites.
The next year, 120 of those beds were converted to year-round shelters and funded separately.
The province paid for 160 winter-shelter beds the next two years, but only 110 last year.
The number of people sleeping on the street in Vancouver dropped from a high of 811 in 2008 to 154 in 2011. It has climbed since, with 488 found in the homeless count of March, 2015.
For most of the past five years, 1,200 to 1,300 people have been sleeping in year-round shelters and the province has opened hundreds of beds in new social-housing projects.
The province spent $170-million in the last fiscal year on emergency shelter and housing for the homeless.