By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Feb. 2, 2013
If an image could stand for a thousand words, it did so in Room 108 at Capilano University on Wednesday, Jan.30.
As Squamish Helping Hands director Maureen Mackell spoke, an image appeared on the slid show: People crammed together on the floor of the Helping Hands facility on Third Ave. in downtown Squamish.
Helping Hands is now envisioning a new image: One where there is space, beds, and most of all, dignity for people who have no place to turn to at night.
Helping Hands is planning to move its shelter to a Wilson Crescent home, a move that is opposed by some neighbours who fear it will increase crime and devalue property prices.
At least six people showed up at the meeting at Capilano University, questioning the fairness of relocating the shelter in a neighbourhood they say is already beset by crime.
Helping Hands feeds more than 50 people every day at their current building. At night, the tables are moved around to make way for a shelter.
The shelter sleeps nine people, but there is space for 15.
The new space, expected to open in spring, will relieve the pressure off the present building.
“That building isn’t adequate and we are bursting at the seams,” Mackell said.
Crucially, the new shelter would enable separate housing for men and women.
Most women feel intimidated accessing the present shelter as limited space means they have to share the floor with men.
The Wilson Crescent home, with seven bedrooms, would ensure separate living quarters for both men and women.
The home, also known as Iris Place, used to provide supportive housing for people with mental health challenges.
It closed in 2010, but Helping Hands convinced BC Housing to hand it over to them.
Yet, a move to Wilson crescent is an interim plan.
In the long run, Helping Hands wants to move both its food and shelter services to a new location.
That could take more than five years and nearly $5 million in funding.
Helping Hands has asked for support from the council, and at least two councillors came to show it.
Coun. Susan Chapelle and Patricia Heintzman spoke about the need to support the Helping Hands society.
“Really, how do you have dignity when you have to sleep on the floor,” said Heintzman.
She said the new shelter location would be a boon for homeless women who are uncomfortable sharing space with men.
Coun. Chapelle said shelters and the availability of help for homeless can bring down crime rates.
Chapelle became emotional speaking about our communal need to help the homeless.
Maureen Mackell, too, found it hard to subdue her emotions as she read letters from homeless people helped by the society.
But some in the audience were less than moved.
At least seven people from Wilson Crescent showed up, concerned the new shelter would increase crime and devalue their property prices.
Wilson Crescent residents said they were told of the planned move only two days before the meeting.
“It feels like we were being hood winked,” said Evelyn Carson.
(Helping Hands seems to have finalised the plan with BC Housing before October last year, its letter to council shows)
Another resident said the neighbourhood is already crime infested and the new shelter is bound to exacerbate the problem.
“We are already at war with all of this,” said Rick King.
Mackell said Helping Hands is willing to work with neighbours to resolve the issues.