THE Province has purchased the Burns Block building in Vancouver to provide homes with wraparound supports for women experiencing homelessness.
“I watched the decline and emergency closure of the Burns Block 15 years ago, leaving dozens of people homeless,” said David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, on Monday. “This injustice to the Burns Block residents was one of my first files as a lawyer, and it was shocking and disturbing to me to watch our housing system fail. While this purchase won’t help my old clients evicted with just hours of notice more than a decade ago, that this housing is coming into public hands to provide urgently needed housing for women experiencing homelessness for years to come is sweet justice.”
Located at 18 West Hastings Street, the Burns Block building was constructed in 1908-09. Originally an office building, Burns Block was eventually converted to single-room occupancy residential units that deteriorated due to mismanagement until the building was shut down by the City of Vancouver because of fire code violations in 2006, with tenants evicted to the street. A full renovation was undertaken in 2011 when the building was restored by a new owner and converted into studio suites.
The property will add 30 new studio units that will be managed 24/7 by Atira Women’s Resource Society. These new homes will be available for women who are committed to reducing or stopping substance use.
A variety of wraparound support services will be available to help women achieve their individual goals, including clinical counselling, primary health care, transitional skills development, 16-step support recovery groups, an art therapy program, community meals, family reunification and short-term access to recovery support.
“This project will give vulnerable women the security and dignity that comes with having access to housing with wraparound services” said Melanie Mark, MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. “I know these homes will have a significant impact on the lives of the women who are seeking to create a brighter path forward for themselves and their families.”
Seventeen vacant units will be available immediately for women experiencing homelessness. The other 13 units are rented to tenants at market rates. These tenants will be able to stay as long as they like. However, Atira will work with those tenants to help them find alternative housing if they prefer.
“Housing is about so much more than just a roof over a head. In this case, it’s about the services and supports that can help women leave behind substance use and chart a path toward health and healing,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “Projects like this one at Burns Block show what we can accomplish when we have a government that makes real investments in supporting the lives of neighbours who for too long have been pushed to the sidelines.”
Starting in mid-2021, BC Housing will lease the commercial space on the ground floor to Atira Women’s Resource Society to create an on-site outreach program.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer women who are interested in reducing and/or stopping substance use a safe, affordable, supportive environment to explore options available to them,” said Bruk Melles, executive director of operations, Atira Women’s Resource Society. “This can be a stepping stone to a safe supply and/or abstinence. There are currently too few places that offer this specific kind of support.”
In addition to support services, tenants will have access to a full gym, rooftop patio and on-site laundry.
This purchase is part of the Province’s ongoing strategy to provide housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and adds to the nearly 1,000 supportive homes that have opened in Vancouver over the last three years.
* The Province provided $10.9 million through the Building BC: Supportive Housing Fund, and will provide annual operating funding of $1.3 million. This cost includes land and building costs, as well as the ground-floor commercial space and purchase fees.
* An appraisal conducted in early February 2021 by an independent party supports this purchase price.
A map showing the location of all announced provincially funded housing projects in B.C. is available online: https://www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC