West Van Christmas tree festival funds affordable housing

This story has been updated to correct errors.

Think of it as the first home on the North Shore built on a foundation of Christmas trees.

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Some local do-gooders are celebrating after The Lookout Housing and Health Society purchased a condo unit to be used as affordable housing on the North Shore. The deal was made possible by donations from the annual Dundarave Festival’s Forest of Miracles.

“It’s never happened before anywhere as far as we know, to turn Christmas trees into non-market housing, let alone in an overheated market like this one,” said Michael Markwick, festival spokesman.

In the last two years, the festival raised about $76,000. Also contributing is the North Shore charity fundraiser Long, Long Night of Hope, which put up $25,000.

The Lookout Foundation matched donations 2:1, which gave the society enough for a down payment. Lookout got the keys for the unit on June 1 and they’re now in the process of selecting its first tenants – most likely a senior couple at risk of homelessness with health, poverty or trauma issues. Seniors are one of the fastest growing demographics showing up at Lookout’s shelter on West Second Street in search of a warm, dry place to stay.

The rents at the condo should be affordable for seniors who receive rental supplements from B.C. Housing.

Lookout isn’t releasing the exact location of the condo to protect the privacy of its future residents. For their ribbon cutting ceremony held in Dundarave Park recently, Markwick used a house made of his vintage Lego as a prop. But the real thing should be substantially more comfortable, said Shayne Williams, executive director for Lookout.

“It’s nice… It’s newer. And it’s certainly going to serve the purpose,” he said.

The condo is not far from the Lookout shelter, so is easy to access by outreach workers if needed.

Markwick said he’s without words at the thought of some local seniors being able to bed down each night in comfort and safety on the North Shore. But he’s also pleased with what the successful campaign says about people on the North Shore, particularly the District of West Vancouver for offering up the park for the charity festival.

“To me that really shows the depth of heart, the seriousness with which the community takes this crisis. The reputation we have for NIMBYism isn’t born out when you look at who participates,” he said. “Why? Because they see it’s their grandparents. It’s their kids. It’s their nieces and nephews.”

The purchase also represents a shift in strategy for the non-profit, which has to date, mostly focused on creating new units of affordable housing. Williams said his board decided to change tack in 2016 following a North Shore News story about a senior who was stuck staying in the shelter while recovering from breast cancer surgery.

“The solutions to homelessness aren’t all one size and we need to look at the community we’re working in and the community that we’re living in for those types of solutions. And there’s just not a lot of land up on the North Shore to build on and create new housing opportunities,” he said. “We’re confident we’re headed in right direction for the most vulnerable people who can’t endure the shelter life.”

In addition to the shelter and the new seniors’ unit, the Lookout Society also runs the Dovercourt sober living house in Lynn Valley.

The festival has donated about $400,000 to Lookout since it began in 2008. Markwick said they intend to continue raising money for the purchase of more units when the festival starts its 10th season this December.

In the meantime, donations can always be made on the Lookout society’s website, Williams said.

“Your money really does make a difference. In this case, it has helped a couple of seniors get housing and remain on the North Shore, healthy and well. That’s a major impact,” Williams said.

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