NPA questions use of community centres as homeless warming shelters

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The NPA is calling for a rethink of the policy which sees Vancouver community centres used as warming shelters for the homeless.

NPA Park Board Commissioners have called for a special meeting to be held tonight to address safety concerns that have been raised recently. Earlier this week a child picked up a needle in the bathroom at the Creekside Community Centre. He wasn’t hurt but soon after the board announced it was closing the facility, not because of the reported incident but because staff were feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to be haven open for a month.

The West End Community Centre was also shut down as a warming shelter this week due to safety concerns. “We’re calling for a public hearing,” says NPA Commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung. “We’ve had a significant number of safety and security concerns.”

She wants the whole idea revisited after the City of Vancouver imposed this policy on Park Board facilities. “This did not come to the Vancouver Park Board,” states Kirby-Yung. “It was an emergency measure that was taken by the general manager and the board was advised it would be for two centres. It has subsequently expanded, so we’re saying it needs to come to the board.”

Green commissioner and Park Board chair Michael Wiebe says the issue is worth a discussion, but praised staff for making the call to try this out during a “crisis” during the cold.

“We need a report back from staff for an educated decision to be made,” says Wiebe. “We need to look at what centres, do we need to close some of the programming if we’re going to do it? There’s a lot of questions to be asked obviously this is what the NPA is bringing forward and rightfully so.”

Obviously, not everyone is happy these facilities are closing their doors. And there may be some legal issues if the Park Board decides to shut down warming centres.

DJ Larkin with the Pivot Legal Society says the board is on shaky ground if it closes the centres because of perceived stigmas. “Elected officials have human rights obligations. If the Park Board were to proceed with the shutting down of the warming centres on the basis of what may in fact be a stigma against marginalized people, including people with disabilities, addiction and homeless people.”

Larkin adds that could be an example of discrimination.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the board’s main office at 2099 Beach Avenue.

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