Photo by Matthew Zylstra Sawatzky
After months of protests from community groups, shelter workers, and residents, the province announced on Wednesday it will extend funding for the New Fountain Shelter for another year. The decision will allow the Downtown Eastside low-barrier shelter to continue keeping more than 40 homeless people off Vancouver’s streets every night.
Earlier this year, the province announced it would close the New Fountain Shelter, which was one of three HEAT shelters Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson helped open in 2008, along with four winter shelters across the city. While the other four shelters closed at the end of April, the New Fountain was given a two-month reprieve so that shelter workers could find housing for its current residents.
In the last issue of Megaphone, we argued that the province was making a tremendous mistake in closing the shelter (and for shutting down the four winter shelters), and we featured the New Fountain in the magazine to show how it was helping house people and build community.
Originally, the New Fountain was slated to close when the 80- unit Station Street social housing project opened earlier this year. But that building is already full and still the New Fountain, which officially has 27 beds, shelters more than 40 homeless people every night. The province then said New Fountain should close because another 308 units of social housing are about to open. But we knew that still wasn’t enough.
According to a one-day homeless count that occurred last March, there are at least 1,605 homeless people in the City of Vancouver (2,623 across Metro Vancouver). While another 300- odd units will certainly be a big help, there are still hundreds of homeless people in the city who need shelter.
The province also said it didn’t have the funding to keep New Fountain open. But we argued that was a bad financial decision. According to the province, the cost of one bed at the New Fountain Shelter is $2,250 a month ($27,000 a year). And according to research by SFU academics, a homeless person costs the provincial government $55,000 a year. So keeping New Fountain open saves both money and people’s lives.
And with just over a week before it was set to close, the province finally came around with approximately $1 million in funding to keep the shelter open through June 2012. Homeless advocates are breathing a big sigh of relief, but want to make sure that low-barrier shelters become an important part in the fight to end homelessness.
“We’ve housed more than 300 people [since we opened],” says Sarah Blyth, a New Fountain staffer and park board commissioner. “That’s a big part of the solution in ending homelessness and we need to talk about making [low-barrier] shelters permanent.”
The New Fountain has proven to get people off the street and into housing. If we are going to end homelessness in Vancouver, the province needs to keep them open—though 2012 and beyond.