Our History

Lookout Housing and Health Society – founded in 1971

In 1970, staff at a youth hostel (Connolly House) identified an upward trend of older homeless men requesting beds. Not able to help because of age restrictions, and finding no resources for these men to go to, application was made to the Federal Government under a youth initiative program to establish a 3-bed night-time only shelter in the area then known as Skid Row.

As a result, the Lookout shelter was founded in 1971, having street patrols which picked up shelter-less people off the streets. It was quickly learned that these individuals, primarily the older chronic street alcoholics, required aid in sorting out their problems, accessing services and/or treatment and locating accommodation.

Twenty-four hour service was rapidly implemented and the number of emergency beds increased over the years to the current level of 182 year round beds between our four shelters. Frequently identifying service gaps, particularly housing inadequacies, Lookout has, over the years, regularly collaborated with other community services to establish a number of specialized, unique resources.

Lookout’s original downtown shelter evolved into our first purpose-built shelter in 1981. It was called the Downtown Housing Centre. This 46-bed shelter has with 39 units of transitional housing. The Shelter is funded primarily through Vancouver Coastal Health and supports shelter clients with money and medication management, homemaking, assessments, referrals, advocacy, liaison with health care, community court, home support, police ACT/VISU teams, Native Health, Downtown Clinic and local pharmacies. Today, the Downtown Housing Centre is known as Al Mitchell Place, in memory of the shelter’s long-time manager, Al Mitchell.

Outreach Service

Mandated to respond to the needs of the community, Lookout developed into the safety net under all other services, catering to a wide variety of needs. When a person has nowhere else to go, they turn to Lookout. As services/resources became available or unavailable, the clientele of our service changed. With the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, Lookout found increasing numbers of psychiatrically disabled needing assistance.  Currently the second largest number of people requesting service are those who are mentally ill.

Long-Term Housing

Recognizing that emergency beds, although essential, are a band aid solution to homelessness, a long-term housing program was gradually implemented, starting in 1978. In 1981 we built our first purpose-built facility, housing both our original emergency shelter and adding new supportive long-term housing. The longer-stay housing was meant to be transitional, allowing people to stay longer to get their feet under them, and during this time, they would find permanent housing.

Despite the increase in beds (shelter increased from 25 to 40 beds and the new 39-long stay units) we found ourselves turning away great numbers of people in both housing programs; homelessness seemed to be on the increase. Emergency stays lengthened as resources became harder to find. Lookout no longer could afford the luxury of holding beds open until 2 am for crisis situations. We could not move people from the tenancy program to other housing: it just did not exist.

With few options available, and recognizing that some people need additional support before moving into permanent housing, Lookout purchased the Sakura So, a 37-housekeeping unit residence on Powell Street in 2001. One of the 2 commercial spaces contains an employment training program—H.A.V.E. Culinary Training Society—that provides a source of income while providing valuable skills to many of our clientele.

Outreach Program

In an attempt to open up emergency beds, staff moved people into surrounding hotel rooms, knowing that such housing was inadequate for most. As a result, a high number of people began returning to Lookout within weeks or months. To address this, in November 1990, the Outreach Program was implemented, and staff hired to follow shelter residents into the community. Outreach staff provide, for a short-term period, the necessary support and services which enable residents to maintain their independent housing.

Case reviews found that for some individuals, long-term Outreach support was needed and Lookout developed this additional capacity to the short-term program in 1992. Our experience in the three programs offered (shelter, longer-stay & Outreach) found few of our clientele could access other housing because of their personal history. We also found people being forced to come into the area to access services as the shelter and housing offered by ourselves and other local providers were unique and supportive. Therefore, concurrent with developing Outreach, Lookout fought for shelters in areas where the homeless gathered, and to also develop permanent housing for those without housing options.


Powell Street Getaway

(formerly known as the LivingRoom Drop-In Activity Center)

In this, we also recognized that the seriously mentally ill were particularly unable to access housing, even when poverty was not a factor. Paper thin walls in local rooming houses were often a factor, and the eviction rate of the mentally ill resulted in the mentally ill being at highest risk of homelessness in the area. They were also a group who utilized our shelter on a higher percentage basis than any other user profile. Frequently abused, and without many supports, Lookout became determined to create services specifically for the mentally ill in the Downtown Eastside area, the new name of Skid Row.

To prevent the evictions and to provide opportunity for the mentally ill to access psychiatric services, Lookout and two other services, Barry McArthur of St. James Community Services, and Ralph Buckley of Strathcona Mental Health spearheaded the creation of a drop in/activity center for the seriously mentally ill. In 1993 we celebrated the opening of the LivingRoom Drop In Centre to provide safe hang-out space for people to use, as well as get involved in activities or treatment.  The service was an immediate hit, with approximately 125 people using the facilities daily.

In October 2016 the LivingRoom was renamed the Powell Street Getaway, which now serves at a Vancouver Coastal Health funded Mental Health and Substance Use community resource center. The Getaway offers a safe consumption site, peer-lead programs, meals, activities and supports for anyone who may need them. The expansion of services is designed to create the space as a ‘hub’ where many services are offered, with particular emphasis on supporting health referrals and outcomes.  We actively refer people in need to the Connections Clinic, operated by Vancouver Coastal Health, which is across the street.

Permanent Housing

Also in 1993, after successfully arguing that people with disabilities can live independently if the appropriate community supports are in place, Lookout celebrated the opening of the Jeffrey Ross Residence, a 37 suite apartment block (not care housing) that specifically targeted the disabled. Most of the residents moved from the tenancy program providing a mini continuum of housing within Lookout, better enabling us to match the needs of the people with our most suitable housing.

Tenant selection was through volunteers from a number of neighborhood agencies, based on our criteria of housing local people who had few, if any housing options. As a result, we were able to move people with repeated housing crises into our longer-stay housing, while people needing housing with supports could be waitlisted for the permanent housing. The Jeffrey Ross naming honors a beloved manager of Lookout – Jeffrey loved the people, the work and was dedicated to creating permanent housing. We vowed to keep up the battle to create more permanent housing options. The Ross immediately had a huge waitlist, with minimal turnover, and our shelter continued to be in high demand, with some people being turned away without housing, to sleep in the streets as there were no other sheltering options for them.

We were successful in gaining an allocation of housing units, and in April of 1996 we moved people in to the 67 suites of our new Jim Green Residence, the first social housing project in B.C. to particularly serve people who have a chronic history of homelessness. This apartment building also included one unit specifically designed as an emergency backup unit to the shelters in the area, particularly for the women’s shelters. This also included individuals in varying family configurations: Immigrant and refugee families, disabled homeless, as well as men and/or women fleeing violence, sometimes accompanied by children have been housed in this unique and extremely useful apartment.

Expanding Shelter Service

Lack of shelter continued to grow to crisis proportions and Lookout was determined to assist. During the late summer of 1995 a young, seriously ill man came into our shelter acutely ill from exposure. He died of pneumonia within 6 hours.  This was the final straw in Lookout’s quest for another shelter, despite knowing that shelter beds were not the solution – the beds were critically needed as understood as band aids for first aid attendants. We actively initiated work towards a new shelter, co-located with secondary housing.  In 1996 Lookout was able to open the first cold weather shelter in the lower mainland: thanks to the Real Estate Foundation of BC.  This winter shelter opened each year while we worked collaboratively with other service providers to create a new shelter service in Vancouver, this time outside of the Downtown Eastside.

Mount Pleasant/False Creek
The Yukon Housing Centre opened in 2002, becoming the first shelter and residential site outside of Downtown Eastside. 26 shelter beds were originally located in the basement of the Yukon and were designated for periods of Emergency Weather Response (EWR). Yukon became immediately full when it opened and began turning people away. Waitlists continued to soar. Due to increased demand, EWR shelter beds became permanently available all year round, providing a total of 71 shelter beds at Yukon.
Transitional housing is also available at Yukon and the site is equipped with 37 studio apartments. Yearly, the Yukon roughly houses an average of 650 people – 10 years ago, this number was over 1000! Length of stay in the studios are limited to 2-3 years, allowing people with repeated housing crises more time to gain stability. The staff help residents transition towards affordable, permanent housing options that meet their service needs.

Located in the Mount Pleasant/False Creek area, First Place is a 12-storey high-rise with 129 units of permanent housing that opened in 2012. It is part of an innovative partnership between the City of Vancouver (provided the land), Province of BC (provided the funding) and Lookout who manages the building and provides assistance to the residents.  Built to LEED Gold standards to reduce environmental impact, residents and staff follow “green” practices and use environmentally friendly products to maintain the standard.

During the development of this new housing, we saw an influx of shelter-less people coming from outside Vancouver. Many came due to lack of flexible, supportive shelter and housing elsewhere. Others still chose to live outdoors rather than leave the community they called home. Our Outreach Team met many of these individuals, ranging from New Westminster, Burnaby, Richmond and the North Shore.  Recognizing their connections to their own communities, Lookout campaigned in these communities to establish local resources for the homeless. Later known as the regional Cold Wet Weather Strategy (and now the Extreme Weather Strategy), the collaborative approach was successful in that both New Westminster and the North Shore asked Lookout to establish services locally.

New Westminster

In 2001, Lookout was able to purchase a 23 unit heritage called Cliff Block Residence in New Westminster, renovate the building, and provide 16 transitional housing units and 7 permanent housing units.


In 2008, Lookout was able to add a 15 bed shelter and 40 residential units, with the addition of Russell Housing Centre (formerly called College Place.)


In 2011, Lookout opened our new purpose-built Rhoda Kaellis Residence with 11 transitional and 13 permanent housing units, using the Cliff as a model.

In 2012, Lookout assumed responsibility for the New Westminster Extreme Weather Shelter (EWS) by utilizing the unused basement at the Cliff Block.

North Shore

While the Lookout presence was developing in New Westminster, we were successful in gaining funding for a winter-only (cold wet/extreme weather) shelter on the North Shore, where no shelter had existed previously. The North Shore, a community thought of as well-off, had a number of homeless living in the streets.

Lookout, in partnership with the North Shore Task Force on Homelessness, achieved funding to build a shelter and transitional housing service in the city of North Vancouver.

This came to be only through the significant support of the City of North Vancouver and the personal dedication of Mayor Barbara Sharp. Overcoming many obstacles, and with funding primarily from the Federal Governments Homeless Initiative (Supported Communities Partnership Initiative – SCPI), Canada Mortgage and Housing, BC Housing as well as the City itself, 25 year round shelter beds were opened on January 7, 2005 followed by 25 studio transitional housing apartments being collocated and opened on April 6, 2005. The generosity of local service clubs, businesses, individuals, neighbors and the Squamish Nation helped overcome a number of hiccups that still limited the full operation of the shelter at July, 2005. During EWR season, the 20 mats that were originally designated for inclement weather also became available for shelter use, bringing the total number of shelter beds to 45.

Thanks to the generous support of the North Shore Mayor’s Golf Tournament, through the North Shore Community Foundation, a training kitchen was put into operation, with an employment program that provides all the meals for shelter guests while teaching valuable skills to people living in extreme poverty – now operated by HAVE, our Sakura So tenant.


Despite providing the option of these shelter beds, Lookout remains committed to keeping shelter bed use to a minimum, by providing longer term housing.

The solution to homelessness is affordable, appropriate homes.

Partnership, SRO’s and First Place

Under the Vancouver Agreement, Lookout began working with building owners and the city to improve the living conditions in Single Room Accommodation (SRA) hotels. The pilot project demonstrated that with good building management, incentives to upgrade/ improve hotel premises and support services for the residents, hotels can be a safer and healthier option where residents can achieve an improved quality of life.  Lookout currently provides support to 35 units each at the Avalon, Cordova’s Residence and Lion Hotel.

Downtown Vancouver

Another type of partnership exists with the owner of the Pender Residence where our Outreach staff are able to support shelter guests in a residential setting while they seek more appropriate long term housing options. Our Outreach team can also be called upon for crisis intervention and preventative problem solving to help resolve tenant issues and maintain a stable living environment.

Beginning in 2007, the Province of BC purchased a number of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in order to preserve the affordable housing stock for low income people at a time of rapidly increasing property values. Lookout was selected to manage and provide support services for Walton Residence (48 rooms) and the Russell in New Westminster.  We also manage Tamura House (105 units) while maintaining support services for 35 units, under a prior partnership agreement.  Both the Walton and Russell have undergone extensive renovations; those at the Tamura are scheduled to begin in 2014.


Merger with Keys: Housing and Health Solutions

In 2014, Lookout merged with Keys: Housing and Health Solutions, a smaller agency that offered similar yet complimentary services in Surrey. The merger not only expanded Lookout geographically, it introduced a variety of programs that included health, youth and sober living – all that remain in operation with Lookout.  The Surrey Health Solutions encompasses a free medical clinic, non-profit dental clinic, an onsite six-unit low-cost housing facility, women specific programming, a high-protein supplemental food bank, a community garden and a support lounge for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis or other blood-borne diseases.  The Surrey Housing Solutions building offers a 24-hour drop in center and a year-round 40-bed emergency shelter as well as a meal program, a number of outreach teams and a 10-bed recovery residence for men.   We also are partners with Centered Lifestyle Services, the Surrey School District and CKNW Orphans Fund in a counseling program for community-based mental health program for youth living in the Surrey Central area.