British Columbia

New winter shelter welcome in Commercial Drive neighbourhood

A new shelter is opening near Commercial Drive and 1st Avenue, and despite past opposition to shelters in other neighbourhoods, the Commercial Drive neighbourhood is welcoming the new addition.

Shelter opens Friday and will provide 50 of 170 Vancouver winter shelter beds

Commercial Drive residents say it is not uncommon to see people sleeping in front of businesses or on people's porches. (CBC)

A new shelter is opening in the 1600 block of 1st Avenue, and despite past opposition to shelters in other neighbourhoods, the Commercial Drive neighbourhood is welcoming the new addition.

The shelter, run by Raincity Housing, opens Friday at 5:00 p.m. PT and will provide 50 of Vancouver's 170 winter shelter beds.

In past years, Vancouver residents have raised concerns about an increase in crime after the introduction of shelters in their neighbourhoods. Bill Briscoll from Raincity Housing says he understands residents' hesitation.

"There's been times where there's been concerns at the beginning. We have to earn the respect of the neighbours and we let them know they can contact us whenever they want. We invite people down to take a look and dispel any myths that may be perpetuated out there."

But there hasn't been much neighbourhood opposition this time according to Briscoll, who says he has received several emails from neighbours saying they are happy about the new shelter.

Homelessness, the greater issue

One long-time resident says he and his father have seen people sleeping in front of doors and on porches for more than 50 years. He says it happens because people have nowhere else to go.

"[The shelter] is definitely well-needed. Anything to get them off the streets," said Andrew Montagliani, Commercial Drive resident and owner of Renzo's Cafe.

Many businesses also support the idea of the shelter, as long as it is well run, says Nick Pogar, executive director of the Commercial Drive Business Society. This is partly because homelessness has become a bigger issue in the area in recent years, he said.

"I think people have realized that the issue of homelessness is greater and a very complex issue. I think they also realize that there's a need to help out in these areas, more so today than five years [ago]."

'Most people have general respect'

As for concerns about crime, one woman who lives in the area says most in the homeless community understand what's at stake.

"I know there's a lot of animosity ... they think that if people stay in a shelter in an area then it'll make the area worse. But generally that's not the case," said a woman who goes by Miranda.

"There's one or two bad people in every group. I mean most people have general respect. They're not going to go and screw it up, because they won't keep it open anymore."

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Commercial Drive welcomes emergency shelter.

With files from Margaret Gallagher


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