‘More com­pas­sion­ate’

Af­ter 13 years, ad­vo­cates for per­ma­nent home­less shel­ters in Burn­aby get good news

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - JEN ST. DE­NIS

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.

STARMETRO FILE

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

DAVID P. BALL/STARMETRO

Re­de­vel­op­ment has re­duced the over­all num­ber of rental hous­ing units in the city, and seen low-in­come renters evicted.

JEN­NIFER GAU­THIER FOR STARMETRO

Burn­aby Mayor Mike Hur­ley, a re­tired fire­fighter, cam­paigned on a prom­ise to ad­dress hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity chal­lenges and home­less­ness.

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