Stephen “Red” Robinson hasn’t stopped enjoying the simple things in life — like electricity and running water — since making his way into supportive housing.
“The first thing I did when I came in here was [to] have a shower, and it was two hours long,” he told CBC News.
“And it was awesome.”
Red spent the summer living in Oppenheimer Park amid hundreds of homeless residents in the area. Despite efforts by the province and the City to house campers, many remain.
As temperatures drop over the holidays, Red considers himself one of the lucky ones. Now realising firsthand how important safe and reliable shelter can be, he’s calling on all levels of government to do more for people living on the streets.
“There’s better things to do than be surviving every day. There’s way better things to do,” he said.
According to the City of Vancouver’s Homelessness Services Director, Celine Mauboules, there are more homeless residents in the city than have ever been recorded in the past. Oppenheimer Park continues to be a major safety concern.
“The City continues to have serious concerns about people’s safety, the proximity of the tents to one another, and obviously as the weather gets colder people are using various heating devices that are a safety risk,” Mauboules said.
The city is looking at ways to build more shelters and supportive housing, while the province says it plans to build more than 4,700 units of supportive housing over 10 years for people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness.
But for many, those units can’t come soon enough. Thousands of people are in line for supportive and affordable housing.
Red says getting off the streets was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. He worked alongside outreach workers from programs like Carnegie Outreach and New Fountain Shelter. He collected reference letters, filled out forms, and asked for support from anyone in a position to help.
Eventually, an outreach worker from New Fountain Shelter introduced Red to an empty rental unit at a recently developed low-barrier housing building.
“It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, I was walking around like I was on a cloud,” he said.
Red’s new home
Soon after moving in, Red says he got very sick for a long time. He thinks his body went into a state of shock and then recovery when it suddenly had a warm, safe, and clean home.
He says he wakes up every day thanking his lucky stars to have a safe and clean home. He vows he will never end up without housing again.
Spreading Christmas cheer
This change in lifestyle, however, hasn’t stopped Red from visiting the park from time-to-time to clean up the area where his tent used to be.
Just days before Christmas, Red decided to go back and spread some holiday cheer.
“I wanted to do something nice for the park. It’s dark and dreary,” he said, equipped with decorations from the dollar store.