More than a place to sleep
The goals of Lookout Society's four shelters are to provide temporary housing to individuals in their own communities, connect people with local services and help them regain stability in their lives.
None of that would be possible if our shelters provided just a bed and meal. This is why Lookout's shelters operate 24 hours a day and provide a range of services and support, including crisis interventions, access to a phone and Internet, laundry, a change of clothing and showering facilities.
Non-judgemental and caring Lookout staff assess shelter users' needs, create case plans for individuals, advocate and act as liaisons, refer clients to services and offer crisis counselling. Many of Lookout's clientele cope with serious challenges such as mental illness, chronic health conditions and addictions, so shelter staff work to bridge people with treatment services and financial supports that ultimately can end the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Lookout's shelters include 221 beds in five shelters that serve Vancouver (both the Downtown Eastide and Central Vancouver), Surrey, the North Shore and New Westminster.
Lookout makes a concerted effort to focus on case plans and work with clients to find suitable housing options – a challenge given the lack of affordable housing.
The Al Mitchell Place Shelter is located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and provides 46 year-round minimum-barrier shelter beds to meet the needs of adult men and women. In 2013-14 the shelter served 749 clients, an increase of more than 120 people compared to the previous year.
The shelter also operates a two-bedroom family suite in the Jim Green Residence, which operates at full capacity.
Increased gentrification in the Downtown Eastside and the loss of affordable housing results in high demand for shelters beds. That was evident at the shelter in 2013-14, which supplied 17,063 bednights, exceeding the 16,195 bednights capacity.
Lookout's first downtown shelter opened in 1971 and moved into the current purpose-built housing in 1982 – thanks to a capital grant from Canada Mortgage and Housing. Formerally known as the Downtown Shelter, it was renamed the Al Mitchell Place Shelter in 2014.
The Yukon Shelter is the Lookout Society's largest and busiest. Built in 2002, it provides 71 beds with 19 dedicated to women.
In addition to being the first shelter built in Vancouver in 20 years, it is also the first located outside the Downtown Eastside.
The central Vancouver shelter has its own set of challenges. A lack of affordable housing and long waiting lists for supported housing units in the area results in clients staying longer. The average length of stay was 24.9 days for 2012-2013, compared to 23.9 days in 2012-13. A total of 1,049 people were sheltered in 2013-2014 (988 intakes and 60 carried over from last year).
Yukon staff has prioritized individual case planning in an effort to find sustainable housing options for clients and shorten stays at the shelter.
Yukon shelter was established thanks to the extensive partnerships between shelter providers, all levels of government, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the faith community and many individuals and organizations. The capital funds came from the federal government's homeless initiative, BC Housing, the City of Vancouver, the health authority, the Real Estate Foundation, Vancouver Foundation and individuals. BC Housing and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority's SMART Funds provide ongoing operating funds.
Gateway Shelter, comprised of 40-beds, is a barrier-free homeless shelter open 365 days a year, for men and women over the age of 19. In 2012 we began offering longer term beds to individuals who are actively engaging with our housing program.
Clients who do not qualify for the housing program are still able to access shelter beds through the temporary winter shelter or through Gateway Shelter on a night to night basis. Supervised by staff during rest times, it offers separate women's and men’s sleeping areas with washrooms. Lockable storage and coat racks are available for use. Guests are allowed to leave at any time during the night.
The shelter is attached to the Front Room Resource Centre, where individuals can access showers, laundry facilities, hygiene products, coffee, individualized case planning, community referrals and a diverse array of services. Individuals staying at the Gateway Shelter are offered three meals daily through the Bread4Life Program.
The North Shore Shelter provides 45 year-round minimum-barrier shelter beds and up to 20 overflow sleeping mats available during extreme weather.
And everyone of those beds is needed. In 2013-14 the shelter provided 15,662 bednights – a 95.4% occupancy rate. There were 2,690 instances of people being turned away.
The need for a shelter on the North Shore, one of the richest communities in Canada, was identified through Lookout's shelter operating in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada.
Several years ago staff at the Downtown Eastside shelter found many of the clients staying there had come from the North Shore. Further investigation discovered the North Shore had a sizeable homeless population living in the communities' streets and parks – refusing to leave their neighbourhoods for assistance.
As a result of this need, individuals and organizations across the North Shore came together and formed a task force on homelessness with the mandate of creating an adult coed shelter, as well as a youth safe house. Lookout partnered with the North Shore Homelessness Task Force to build the first adult shelter on the North Shore, thanks to grants from the Federal Government's Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (through Human Resources Development Canada), the City of North Vancouver, the Districts of North and West Vancouver, the Real Estate Foundation, businesses and individual donors.
The City of North Vancouver purchased property and rezoned it for the shelter and transitional housing. It opened in the spring of 2004 and has since expanded to present capacity.
BC Housing purchased the venerable three-storey College Place Hotel in downtown New Westminster and took possession in 2008. The purchase saved a significant heritage building and retained up to 55 units of affordable housing in New Westminster.
Now known as The Russell Housing Centre, the shelter component is a 24-hour, minimal-barrier facility for up to 15 men aged 19 and older. It is Lookout Society's lone men-only shelter with homeless women supported by the nearby Elizabeth Fry Society shelter, also located in New Westminster.
In total, 317 men were served in 2013-14, the majority of them first-time shelter users.
The City of New Westminster and the provincial government came together with Lookout to make the project a success.