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'Crowded and overflowing': Burnaby non-profit running out of space to serve immigrants, seniors

Burnaby Neighbourhood House needs more space, but some city councillors say its not their job to find it.
Burnaby Neighbourhood House says its North House on Hastings Street is too small for its needs.

A local non-profit that serves immigrants, families and seniors is bursting at the seams, according to its CEO.

But two Burnaby city councillors aren’t convinced it’s the city’s job to offer the non-profit space.

Antonia Beck, CEO of Burnaby Neighbourhood House, made a plea to the city for a larger, permanent space at a meeting Nov. 8.

Beck said the current “North House,” a 2,000-square-foot temporary shopfront at 4908 Hastings St., has filled a gap for vulnerable North Burnaby residents and created a welcoming place of connection.

The non-profit offers immigrant and settlement programs for newcomers, after-school programs for children, senior’s programs and community programs.

But as food insecurity continues to rise, the Food Hub at North House – and its commercial-grade refrigerators and freezers – have taken over the space.

People line up outside, even in the rain, to access the Food Hub, Beck said.

“The need for social infrastructure to operate a neighbourhood house is dire in North Burnaby,” Beck said.

The Food Hub has seen a 30 per cent increase every year since it started during COVID, with 1,800 individuals using it each month.

Ted Wiens, BNH board chair, said the rents for North House are “very expensive.” He said the non-profit is facing a rent increase come December in the space that’s “crowded and overflowing.”

The executives asked for a permanent, purpose-built home for North House in a city-owned building along the Hastings corridor.

“Minimum 5,000 sq. ft. would be awesome, great,” Beck said, wondering if space could be found at Capitol Hill Community Hall, where she’s had discussions with the community association.

'Where's the federal government?'

But two Burnaby Citizens Association councillors questioned if the city should be responsible for these types of social services.

“You’re asking us to get into a field that is generally not our responsibility,” said BCA Coun. Pietro Calendino.

“And we’ve been very generous and very kind in the last number of years … but that means that we have to take away those resources from other needs that we have for the city.”

He said the city already subsidizes the rent for non-profit’s Metrotown location, South House.

“So, there is another loss of revenue for the City of Burnaby there, too, that we are providing for you,” Calendino said.

BCA Coun. Sav Dhaliwal agreed.

“It seems to us that the province seems to have gone away from supporting social services that are absolutely needed,” he said.

He pointed to the immigrant and settlement services that BNH offers.

“Who would have thought the cities would be the one called to really support those functions?” Dhaliwal asked. “Where’s the federal government’s share to support that function? Where is their department, immigration department, not looking after the people when they land?”

Beck said the non-profit receives provincial and federal support but the lack of space in North Burnaby has limited their ability to run programs.

Independent Mayor Mike Hurley agreed higher levels of government had downloaded responsibilities, but suggested the city could still help.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to work with you and to try and meet your needs in the north as we have in the south,” he said.

Hurley said the city can’t walk away from the non-profit.

“We know there’s going to be more settlements,” the mayor said. “There’s going to be more refugees, unfortunately. … We can certainly sit here and say, ‘It’s everybody else’s issue.’”

“But I think we need to work together,” Hurley added.