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WCSS altering programming for Olympic period

Emergency shelter plan under consideration; ISU taking over offices



Whistler Community Services Society will be moving out of its office and changing some programming when the 2010 Olympics come to town.

Of the 26 programs it runs only two will run relatively as usual - the youth outreach program and the food bank.

However, Greg McDonnell, executive director of WCSS, said anyone in need of social services will get the help they need.

"The outreach workers can help community members access other programs, for example emergency financial assistance, counselling... throughout this time," said McDonnell.

"The outreach team will be visible in the community and doing their thing. We are directing phones to outreach workers.

"It is going to be a challenging time for the people that use social service programs on our end. As an agency we are just trying to be flexible as the needs arise."

Said Anne Townley, vice-chair of WCSS: "We will be flexible as we can and if there are needs we have excellent staff available... to manage those needs in the community."

The WCSS offices are being rented by the organization in charge of security for the Games, the Integrated Security Unit. WCSS is being paid $800 rent for the month.

WCSS is cutting back the hours of its Function Junction thrift store to just two days a week at Games time after staff decided it was unlikely residents would frequent the Re-Use-It Centre due to traffic control and congestion issues.

WCSS, a non-profit, could lose up to $10,000 in income from the closure.

"...For a non profit that is significant, so it is definitely a big loss for us," said McDonnell.

"Yes there are lots of buses but who is going to want to take the new bookshelf they just bought for three dollars home on the bus? So after much consideration we did decide to close it."

WCSS currently provides short-term emergency help for those left without a roof over the heads in Whistler. But there is no physical shelter.

At Games time, said McDonnell, the organization is considering using the thrift store space as a shelter.

"Any Canadian kid can just stick their thumb out and get up here and I am expecting that," he said, adding that the organization is also concerned about young adults being turned out of their rental suites at the last minute so landlords can rent out for the Games.

"I think if landlords can makes some extra money on things like rent I think we are going to see people displaced at the last minute... so I really would like to have an answer to the locals who are displaced in that regard."

Maureen Douglas senior communications officer for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC) said the organization is working with WCSS on the issue.

"I think there were a lot of people very early on who presumed they would be evicted by landlords hoping to make a lot of money on renting out the suites," said Douglas.

"While there has been a measure of that there hasn't been nearly the level of concern that was presumed at the beginning.

"We are going to continue to talk about it and if and when there is a need for an emergency temporary shelter... then we would work with (WCSS) to see how we can assist in terms of any financial ramifications for them."

VANOC has committed to setting up inexpensive temporary hostels in Vancouver to help deal with individuals in this situation, as previous Games have shown that if this arises it usually does so in the urban host city.

McDonnell is also concerned about the youths who are being displaced at Games time as the high school is closed for three weeks and two days. Some of the older youth could have an opportunity to work but the Grade 8 and 9 students so far are short of any programs at Games time.

WCSS is also planning on doubling food bank days to every Monday throughout February.

"The research out there all points to all levels of the marketplace try to capture as much revenue as they can during the Games, so 'mom and pop' restaurants may increase prices," said McDonnell by way of explaining why the food bank days are being increased.

The food bank, which is looking for donations, was far busier this past year than in 2008.

"We do anticipate the food bank to be quite busy," said McDonnell.

There is an opportunity with Olympic organizers to try and re-purpose some the food at Games time but it is challenging due to Food Safe guidelines and having proper storage capacity.