Vancouver’s former Army & Navy department store will serve as an innovative pathway to housing for people currently experiencing homelessness in the city.

PHS refitted the iconic Vancouver landmark as a 60-bed shelter, which we will operate on behalf of BC Housing and the City of Vancouver to enable homeless people to move into permanent housing.

The quintessential general store operated for 101 years until closing in May 2020 due to financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an exciting proposal to turn an iconic building into a much-needed community resource,” said PHS Housing Director Tanya Fader.

“The ultimate goal is housing for people experiencing homelessness. The shelter will exist to get homeless people inside with access to the supports needed for a successful transition to permanent housing. We will see people moving through the shelter and going on to find homes as they become available.”

Bud Osborn

Named The Osborn in honour of Vancouver poet and drug-user-advocate Bud Osborn, it opens early May 2021 with 24-hour supports.

The menswear section of the former store was transformed into a sleeping area with pods for privacy, mirroring PHS’s successful adaptation of Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre arena into a homeless shelter.

Alongside this, in the former workwear department, residents will get meals, watch TV and access a range of services including assistance getting ID, housing advocacy, and connection to health and psychosocial supports.

Residents will have a safe consumption area with peer support, lockers for personal belongings and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

Round-the-clock supports

“The 24/7 operation means that, unlike most shelters, residents will not be required to vacate by a set time each morning,” said Tanya.

“But what really sets this project apart is the quality of supports. The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre arena shelter showed us that when people are in a 24/7 supported environment and given opportunities they quickly become stabilized and equipped for long-term success.”

PHS first operated this model of shelter in Victoria at Save-On-Foods Arena through spring and fall 2020 and successfully transitioned more than 50 individuals into suitable permanent housing. The Arena reopened March 2021 to get more homeless people out of the elements and heading to housing.

PHS operates a continuum of housing for people requiring varying supports, which includes two permanent shelters – Arbutus in Victoria and New Fountain in Vancouver.

Accessing housing

The Osborn will probably exist for two to three years, and over that time should enable hundreds of people to access permanent housing.

Shelters are not the solution to homelessness.  But shelters can be important transitions to permanent housing if they are expressly designed to be that conduit.

There is currently a definite need for shelters that offer short-term reprieve and transition – especially if they are low barrier, open round the clock and provide wraparound supports, as is the case at The Osborn.

We want to commemorate our friend and DTES hero Bud Osborn in a more sustained way than is possible with a temporary project. We are also going to name a future permanent housing project after Bud, so that honouring his legacy will be permanently enshrined at PHS.

Dignified shelter experience

As Tanya said: “Many of us at PHS worked closely with Bud on several programs, community initiatives and events and cherish his memory as a poet, activist, friend and community builder. We are so happy to have the full blessing of Bud’s sister Leslie who was also the executor of Bud’s estate in our honouring of Bud.

“While we always strive to house people and are constantly advocating for self-contained homes for people, sheltering is a part of the current structuring of responses to homelessness in Canada and this shelter design offers a much more dignified shelter experience than traditional mats on floors.

“This shelter is not where we expect or plan for people to stay longer than they need to as we work with them to find housing and move on. This shelter is a temporary response to Vancouver’s homelessness and drug poisoning crises amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a model that is proven to work to get people into the housing that they need.”

The Osborn shelter The Osborn shelter