Saturday, January 17, 2009


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


Last night, I along with Georgia Straight news reporter, Carlito Pablo and Downtown Eastside seniors activist, Audrey LaFerriere, visited Gregor's new shelter on Central street. This shelter is located in the industrial False Creek flats side of the City, just off Main and Terminal streets.

Like Gregor's other shelters this one is also located in an decrepit warehouse. When walking up to the shelter you can see the mold on the outside of the building. Many of the windows have heavy plywood coverings.

Upon arrival at the shelter, we introduced ourselves and the staff were warm and friendly. At the time we arrived just after 8pm, according to staff, about 60 people had arrived to be sheltered.

Audrey, Carlito and myself stayed for two hours chatting with the guests and asking questions of staff.

I learned that Gregor''s latest shelter (there are now three) opens at 6pm and closes at 10am. The sheltered are provided a hot meal which is catered by the Potluck and the food is kept in steam trays.

Although the Mayor's HEAT committee has been sending out propaganda saying they have created 200 shelter beds, this is a misnomer as in actuality what they are providing is floor space.

None of the shelters I've visited have actual beds.

Staff articulated that that there are five staff per shift and there are three shifts. Staff are unionized. Staff don't really interact with the sheltered except to serve them food and have them sign in at the front entrance. No identification is required for entry.

When we left close to 10 pm, there were about 63 guests in for the night. Although this is by far the largest of Gregor's shelters, it can hold 100 people in one big room, since opening four days previous, they haven't come near the 100 person capacity.

It's interesting to note that there is a staff ratio of one staff per four sheltered guests.

Speaking with a number of the sheltered, they all share they have been using the shelter system for quite some time.

One gentleman I spoke with named Oliver is only 28 years of age. Oliver hails from Ottawa where he has family. He has been in Vancouver since age 18. Oliver is very well kept, personable and he works in construction and is trying to get his drinking and drug use under control. He shared with me that even though today was his payday, instead of going out drinking, he instead purchased some underwear, slacks and a few shirts. Like other homeless people, Oliver is living out of a backpack.

I spoke with an Aboriginal Tsimshian man from Terrace who has been using the shelter system for quite some time. He also accesses the various Aboriginal groups locally. He showed me his United Native Nations citizens card and was friendly and cordial. He and Oliver are both intelligent men.

What popped into my mind was this. If the sheltered are out looking for work during the day and in fact many of them do look for temporary work, they have nowhere to leave their belongings and this creates problems because if they hide their worldly possessions somewhere, they run the risk of losing everything they own. You are not allowed to leave anything behind in the shelters.

Gregor's shelters do not have showers and only supply basic sinks and toilets. In his new shelter there are 4 toilets for men and one for women. I looked in the women's washroom and saw that there is no mirror so in the morning, you are not given any opportunity to properly groom yourself. In the men's there are no mirrors either so guys in the shelter can't even shave or properly comb their hair in order to look presentable when going out looking for work.

It needs pointing out that Gregor's shelters antied up $1.5 million for 200 floor spaces for three months duration. According to my calculation that is $100 per day to provide a shelteree basic floor space.

I am hoping that my readers begin to see something terribly wrong with the above picture?

To put everything into proper perspective taxpayers are shelling out $2,800.00 per month per person to be sheltered on a floor and that is only floor accommodation overnight.

Surely at the current cost of $2,800.00 per month per person we can do way better than just providing floor space?

Jamie Lee Hamilton