British Columbia

Homeless city resident pairs with Vancouver realtor to open new emergency warming shelter

The temportary warming shelter is one of only a handful of places where people experiencing homelessness on the West Side of the city can seek refuge from the cold.

Private members' lodge in upscale neighbourhood now welcoming anyone who needs to warm up

Stanley Woodvine at the Odd Fellows Hall, which has become a warming shelter for homeless people in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

One man is a West Side realtor whose clients buy and sell homes worth millions. The other lives only with what he can carry on his bike trailer and spends a lot of time hunting down free internet so he can update the blog he keeps about being homeless on the streets of Vancouver.

Together, they've formed an unlikely partnership to help open a temporary warming shelter where others living on the street can escape the cold winter nights.

Located in the Odd Fellows Hall, a heritage building in the city's Fairview neighbourhood, it is one of very few such spaces serving people on the West Side.

And it's a nice space.

Realtor Walter Wells is a member of the Vancouver Odd Fellows, a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal order. A year ago, he read a post by homeless blogger Stanley Woodvine about the perils of being outside in bad weather.

Wells said the post hit him hard.

"I had a vision of people freezing almost literally on our doorstep," said Wells. "It just seemed so real to me. So personal."

Odd Fellows members Walter Wells, left, and Chris Thomson, right, are pictured with Stanley Woodvine, middle, at the Odd Fellows Hall which has become a warming shelter for homeless people in Vancouver, B.C. on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

So, he approached the other Odd Fellows with the idea of opening the doors of their cherished 99-year-old Fairview Hall at 1443 West Eighth Ave.

Woodvine says the space makes for a welcome change compared to many shelter spaces he has seen during his 16 years of being homeless. 

"Compared to the low-ceiling buildings, and none of this is fluorescent lighting, a nice hardwood floor," said Stanley Woodvine. "I come into a space like this and I want to quiet down."

The Vancouver Odd Fellows' website says the group primarily exists for friendship and to help others. It also raises money and donates it to local charities. But Wells said some members were reluctant to have strangers inside the tony hall, with its throne-like chairs and walls of historical photographs.

"You don't always get 100 per cent buy-in," he said, adding it pushed him to take every effort to make sure the first week of being open to those in need runs smoothly.

"So far, it's been great," said Wells.

Stanley Woodvine lays out mats for people to sleep on at Fairview Hall located at 1443 West Eighth Ave. There is space for 10 people to come in and warm up on cold winter nights. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The mats on the floor are spaced about two metres apart and currently have enough room for 10 people to sleep comfortably. It doesn't accept grocery carts or pets and will only be open on Vancouver's coldest nights.

For Woodvine, it is important not just because it's the first cold weather shelter in the immediate area that he is aware of, but also because Wells took it upon himself to help. 

"Having people in your society who do not turn away, who face you and treat you as a human being and don't pretend you're not there, that's really important for homeless' people's self esteem," said Woodvine.

"The Odd Fellows are simply saying, 'Look you're people. You shouldn't be cold. You shouldn't be wet. So come on in,'" he added.

The Odd Fellows have worked with the City of Vancouver to set up and operate the space.

Tap below to listen to Walter Wells and Stanley Woodvine on CBC's The Early Edition:

Jodie Martinson pays a visit to the Odd Fellows Hall to hear about the Granville Street sanctuary. 8:32

With files from The Early Edition and Bridgette Watson

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