After 13 years, advocates for permanent homeless shelters in Burnaby get good news
For 13 years, advocates for homeless people in Burnaby have been urging city council to open a permanent homeless shelter.
In that time, the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby tracked 51 cases in which homelessness contributed to the death of residents.
Last week, they got some good news: the city’s newly elected mayor and council introduced and passed a motion to allow permanent homeless shelters, as well as warming centres that can be opened on cold winter nights in community centres or church basements.
“We had talked to the mayor about the urgency of getting something up and running as quickly as possible for people who are homeless, because homelessness is life-threatening,” said Karen O’shannacery, a spokesperson for the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby.
Homeless counts show Burnaby, with a population of 232,000, has between 250 and 350 homeless residents. The organization has formally advocated for a permanent homeless shelter in Burnaby since it formed in 2005.
The city currently has one emergency cold-weather shelter that can only open when the temperature reaches 0 C, or there is heavy rain or sleet, according to O’shannacery.
“I THINK PEOPLE WANT TO SEE A MORE CONSIDERATE AND COMPASSIONATE COUNCIL THAT PAYS MORE ATTENTION TO HOUSING.”
Pietro Calendino, Burnaby councillor
Some residents stay at shelters in New Westminster or Vancouver, but O’shannacery emphasized that most of the clients of the society are from Burnaby and would rather stay in their home community.
“I felt very happy, a real sense of relief and joy for the people who had been advocating for those basic supports for so long,” said Jessica Hannon, executive director of Megaphone Magazine, a publication that focuses on issues around homelessness and poverty.
“But I was also feeling a lot of frustration,” Hannon added, “a ‘What took you so long’ that accompanies that feeling of joy and happiness.”
In 2016, her magazine published a report that showed the number of fatalities amongst Metro Vancouver residents who were homeless had jumped by 70 per cent between 2013 and 2014.
Pietro Calendino is a Burnaby city councillor and a
member of the Burnaby Citizens Association, the party that held power unopposed on the previous council under former Mayor Derek Corrigan.
Calendino voted for the motion — in part because voters had sent a signal they wanted to see a different approach from council. He said he’s heard that several nonprofit groups are already working on getting plans in place to open shelters.
“I think people want to see a more considerate and compassionate council that pays more attention to housing needs in general, and rental affordability in specific, terms,” he said.
Corrigan, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2018, had a consistent message when asked why Burnaby did not have any permanent homeless shelters: the real solution was to build housing, he said in numerous media reports, and that was the job of more senior levels of government.
Mike Hurley, a retired Burnaby firefighter, challenged Corrigan in the October civic election and won, promising to put a halt to a rapid redevelopment process that had led to mass evictions of low-income renters and reduced the overall number of rental housing units in the city. Hurley said that dynamic has contributed to homelessness.
Calendino said that in the past, some members of the BCA wanted to go a different direction when it came to allowing homeless shelters, but “we didn’t get the majority of the rest of the members and we didn’t bring it out in the open,” he said.
“Now there is a different dynamic on council and I think there’s more appetite to do things like this.”
O’shannacery said her organization now wants to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past.
Starmetro was unable to reach either Corrigan or Hurley for comment on this story.
Homeless counts show Burnaby, with a population of 232,000, has between 250 and 350 homeless residents. Advocates have been calling for a permanent homeless shelter since 2005.
Redevelopment has reduced the overall number of rental housing units in the city, and seen low-income renters evicted.
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, a retired firefighter, campaigned on a promise to address housing affordability challenges and homelessness.