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Centre meeting draws four people on Drive

Participant suggests moving The Centre into a closed school

“It was the uproar over moving The Centre that got me thinking about what my connection to The Centre is,” said Sandra Mudd. “And there is none. I think I’ve been to The Centre once.”

Mudd lives in East Van. She’s one of a handful of people who attended the second in a series of coffee-and-conversation meetings organized by The Centre’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear.

Breakspear organized the meetings after news surfaced that The Centre’s board of directors is considering relocating the facility outside the West End, possibly to a location at Burrard and 7th Ave, to cut rental costs.

The first public meeting, held at Melriches May 11, drew 16 community members.

This time, only four people attended the May 21 meeting at the End Café on Commercial Dr.

Nevertheless, participants tabled a number of tangible ideas for The Centre’s future location. They also emphasized the importance of making The Centre more accessible and relevant to women.

Mudd, who takes part in The Centre’s Generations program for seniors, said it would be nice to feel like there was a facility “here for us” in the East End.

Kona, who goes by her first name only, echoed these sentiments, noting the apparent disconnect between The Centre and Vancouver’s dyke population.

She explained that her friends in the dyke, trans and queer communities don’t go to The Centre because there’s a perception that it’s all about the guys. She added that she would like to see The Centre cover more trans issues, as well as issues affecting lesbians who are trying to conceive.

“Vancouver has a very strange queer community,” Kona said. “There is money in our community and there is will in our community, yet it’s fractured.”

While she acknowledged that there is a historical investment and purpose in keeping The Centre located in the West End — the heart of the gay community — she also pointed out that the city’s queer demographics are shifting as the West End’s rental rates and “renovictions” soar.

“Hollyburn is kicking queers out in droves,” she said, adding that gay men are migrating to the less expensive Commercial Dr area as a result.

“The West End is not affordable,” Kona said, criticizing the notion that The Centre should automatically stay in the West End because it has been there all along.

“It’s not because you’re an identifiable population that you’re entitled to something or entitled to soil,” she added.

If the West End population wants to keep The Centre in their community so much, she said, they need to step up to the plate and buy their memberships.

With that, the focus of the consultation shifted as attendees began brainstorming potentially more affordable, accessible locations.

The Centre currently pays $7,000 in rent each month for its West End location, Breakspear told the small gathering.

“If I didn’t have to pay so much in rent, I could put it into programming,” she said.

Breakspear says she’ll hold as many coffee-and-conversation meetings as needed to determine the community’s parameters and preferences for The Centre and its location.

The Centre is looking for a space that is at least 3,000 square feet and has a street-level presence, Breakspear explained. The new location would need to have space for meetings as well.

Commercial Dr was discussed as a potential area but one drawback is the layout of available properties. Breakspear explained that many of them are long and narrow and that does not necessarily lend itself well to a community centre format.

When Breakspear asked for feedback on locating The Centre on Granville Island, participants responded with criticisms about a lack of “life” at night, the difficulty of getting there by transit and safety concerns.

“There’s lots of nooks and crannies for people to hide in if they’re into gaybashing,” said Mudd.

When the suggestion of seeking out a mid-industrial space was raised, Breakspear noted that she has already visited such sites but suggests that even if a space were perfect, the location would be flawed.

She said she could imagine the flak she would get from the community for putting The Centre in an area with no atmosphere.

Locations along Main St and Burrard were also discussed as the small group weighed in on issues like transit and street grade.

The consensus was that there would be issues with any location selected, including the current one.

“No matter where you go, you’re going to have unhappy people,” said Bootblack Jack. “It’s that old [saying]: If you build it they will come.”

Location may be the key for businesses, Jack said, but for non-profits like The Centre, it’s the accommodations, the safety and the comfort that are going to make people come back.

Jack suggested using a closed school or part of an underutilized school to house The Centre.

Breakspear said she would look into it.

“We are a diverse community and we need to be accessible,” Breakspear said.