Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Old Vancouver motor hotel gets new life as part of homelessness experiment

An article published in yesterday's edition of The Vancouver Sun:
By Todd Coyne

Downtown Vancouver’s old Bosman’s Motor Hotel is once again filling up fast. Not with the road-weary travellers of earlier days, however, but with people whose paths in life have led them, wearily, to the streets.

Now renamed the Bosman Hotel Community, the four-storey former inn at 1060 Howe St. officially opened its doors Monday as the Vancouver site of a five-city federal research project studying the relationship between homelessness, mental illness and addiction.

With similar facilities in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton, the Mental Health Commission of Canada is studying the effects of a “Housing First” approach to treating the mental health problems of chronically homeless people in Vancouver. This model means providing suitable candidates with housing and food as a first priority before trying to address their mental-health problems and their goals for recovery.

Inside the Bosman, the rooms are small and bear all the furnishings immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever stayed in low-cost, continental breakfast-included lodgings anywhere in North America. There’s a heavy-blanketed bed, a lamp, a bathroom on the left and even a Bible in the nightstand.

For a hundred of Vancouver’s hardest to house, it will be home.

“If it was not for this place, I do believe I would not be here today,” said new Bosman resident Nicola Keate [pictured].

In front of a crowd of city politicians, university researchers and homeless-outreach workers in the Bosman’s cramped main room, Keate told of how at age 14 she started using drugs and immediately became hooked.

Later, she found out she had a bipolar disorder — which, she said, led to more drugs and a life of crime.

It’s a cyclical refrain among the Bosman’s 67 residents — drugs leading to illness leading to drugs — and one which the federal mental health commission, in association with the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver, is trying to end in the homeless population nationwide.

Jeff West, the Bosman’s project manager, said that 500 of Vancouver’s homeless with addictions and mental health problems were selected as potential candidates for residency at the Bosman Hotel. One hundred of them were then offered residency at the Bosman — something one resident compared to winning the lottery — for a maximum stay of three years.

That’s when the national study ends and when West said the Bosman Hotel’s owners, Prima Properties Ltd., plan to build condominiums.

Of the other 400 study participants in the city who will not be moving into the Bosman, 200 will not receive housing as the study’s “treatment as usual” control group, and 200 will be put into “scatter housing” around the city and connected to case managers and mental health support workers, West said. Nationwide, 2,285 people are participating in the three-year “At Home” study; of these, 1,325 will receive housing.


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