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More Richmondites to have a safe place to lay their heads

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:49 PDT, Fri July 12, 2019

Last Updated: 3:19 PDT, Mon July 15, 2019

Throughout North America, it’s clear co-operation among all levels of government is needed to end homelessness. In a step towards that goal, a new shelter opened in Richmond last week.

Throughout North America, it’s clear co-operation among all levels of government is needed to end homelessness. In a step towards that goal, a new shelter opened in Richmond last week.

“By working together, we offer residents experiencing homelessness a safe space, and the opportunity to take the first step toward achieving stability in their lives,” says Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie of the 36-bed shelter that opened July 10 on Horseshoe Way, near No. 5 Road and Steveston Highway.

Homelessness costs us all, big time.

According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7.05 billion annually, or about 20 times what the federal government has available to spend on cancer research. That $7 billion includes provision of emergency shelters and community supports, but also accounts for the increased costs of emergency services (including fire, police and EMS), health care, and the criminal justice system.

Those coping with profound mental illness are over-represented among the homeless and among those incarcerated. While most people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators,according to Richmond RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dennis Hwang, “All RCMP officers deal with calls involving persons with mental health related issues. This is a reality of policing in general.”

The local detachment does have a special mental health team. Hwang says they are, “Tasked with examining the highest priority cases.”

According to the Observatory on Homelessness, the financial costs per homeless person are vast. Institutional responses (jails, hospitals, etc.) cost $66,000 to $120,000 annually and emergency shelters between $13,000 and $42,000 annually. 

Supportive and transitional housing costs $13,000 to $18,000 and affordable housing without supports costs between $5,000 and $8,000.

That means, leaving Richmond’s estimated 72 homeless people on the streets would cost us between $5 million and 8.6 million every year.

While supporting people on a journey towards better health and affordable housing would eventually cost us a total of $360,000  a year for all 72, or $416 per month per person.

Proving once again that kindness is cost-effective.

Managed by The Salvation Army, the new shelter offers spaces for men and women, with options for couples. It meets an immediate need for drop-in spaces for women in our community as well.

Open 24 hours a day, year-round, the shelter has a dining room where meals are provided, a commercial kitchen, and places to do laundry and to have showers. Until now, being homeless meant wearing the same unwashed clothes, carrying all your belongings with you all the time, and having little access to showers. 

Richmond’s former shelter was small and only for men. Its closure was necessitated because the privately-owned land on which the building sat has been sold.

A group consisting of the city, provincial government, faith communities and a variety of agencies all contributed to the project which consisted of finding the land, purchasing it, and renovating the location to make a state-of-the art home for those living on the streets.

Many of Richmond’s homeless struggle with physical and mental health issues that sometimes lead to self-medication through substance abuse. In conjunction with the Anne Vogel Clinic, operated by Vancouver Coastal Health, among many other support options, people with complex medical and mental health needs can seek refuge and treatment through an integrated effort.

The new shelter is wheelchair accessible with a bright, covered courtyard and an outdoor garden area.

The federal “Housing First” policy has been embraced by Richmond City Council because they recognize it’s hard to get healthy without a home. The policy says clearly that a community’s first goal should be a home. Then a person’s complex medical, social and psychiatric needs can be addressed, including substance abuse.

The goal of the new shelter echoes the policy, offering a first step towards better health, a safer home, and a better life. 

Supportive housing, like that offered in modular housing, shelters and transition homes can save Canadian taxpayers billions.

Whether the goal is to “clean up the streets,” offer compassion to those in need, or to save money, the new shelter is one option among many in a cooperative strategy to end homelessness.

Selina Robinson, B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing says, "It's important that people in need know there is a safe, warm place for them, with training and supports to help them move forward in their lives right here in Richmond."

Major Kathie Chiu, corps officer and executive director, Salvation Army Richmond says, "We are very grateful to the City of Richmond and the provincial government for this project and our ongoing partnership. Together we are giving people hope today and every day."

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