Former Vancouver Career College students are frustrated the college abruptly cancelled courses due to a homeless shelter’s proximity to its Kelowna campus.
Jordan Martindale found a place to live in Kelowna, set up her student loans and told her boss in Kamloops that she was moving here to take the Registered Massage Therapy program scheduled to begin in March. Then the college director told her the college was pushing back those courses until the fall due to an incident involving a fire in one of the classrooms.
“They said part of the school had been set on fire from essentially some homeless people,” she said.
In June, after Martindale and her classmates had already attended an orientation course, she said the college director called her again to tell her the program was discontinued for health and safety reasons revolving around the Cornerstone shelter on Leon Avenue.
“She told me she would give my application fee back, which was $150 bucks, and that’s basically it,” she said.
“All the students had done our applications, we’d gotten our student loans and the weekend before May long we had actually gone to Kelowna for our weekend introductory course.”
Martindale said she and other students were told a week prior to the cancellation that everything was going according to plan.
“We were ready to go, we were just waiting for September. It’s not like people were in the process of applying. The class was full,” she said. “My main question was if you knew about this in April, why did it take you to June to tell us?”
Martindale said it was difficult to find a new program in June because September’s intake at other colleges was mostly filled, and she still hasn’t received a refund for her application fee.
The homeless shelter was originally a winter emergency facility, but in March it was announced the shelter would continue its operations for another year.
According to the John Howard Society, the shelter is set to continue operating until March 2019. BC Housing responded via email that the shelter will not continue operation past the end of March next year.
Edward Jonathan, regional vice-president for Vancouver Career College, said the college is discontinuing new student enrolment and stopped the two-year RMT program, but still has about 60 students finishing their programs. Roughly 38 people were registered for the RMT course.
He said the downtown location is “getting completely out of control…It’s a complete mess. We’ve had issues there for many years but it’s never been as bad as it is now.”
Students are unable to use the front entrance on Leon Avenue due to safety issues and thousands of dollars were spent on installing gates due to the homelessness in the area, he said.
“I can’t even describe to you the activities that were happening there in the morning hours. So we put up those fences,” he said.
Jonathan listed safety concerns such as used syringes and condoms around the building, as well as urine and vomit. Two windows were smashed last week and a garbage container fire recently damaged a fire exit door.
Currently, enrolled students will complete their courses, but the college plans to sell the space and relocate and is no longer accepting new students.
He said the decision was made because the temporary shelter received an extension.
Jonathan said the college attended city meetings with the location of the shelter and communicated with the city about the situation, but nothing was done.
The RMT program takes two years to complete.
“We can’t continue with this and commit to another two years. To our thinking, I would rather have the students be given a choice to go to other schools to continue their program as opposed to start them and stop the program,” Jonathan said.
While Martindale has not received her refund yet, Jonathan said all application fees have been refunded.