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No shelter for homeless this year
Shelter workers, advocates and volunteers in Port Moody, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam are devastated at the news that a long-running winter shelter program in the Tri-Cities has been cancelled for this year.
Rob Thiessen, manager of the Hope for Freedom Society, which has funding to operate a temporary shelter from October through March, said workers and volunteers were given the bad news last week.
"I've money, willing volunteers, I've got staff… but for a small but minor detail — I've got no facility," Thiessen said Tuesday after efforts to get a solution for the program failed at the 11th hour.
The program was to have started Oct. 1 and run for one month at St. Andrew's United Church in Port Moody before moving to another church in the Tri-Cities but no other city came forward with a proposal to house the program. Port Moody has a long-standing approval for the church to hold the shelter and it was not city that had changed its mind. Rather there was nowhere for the shelter to go after its 30 days in Port Moody were up.
NOT IN POCO, COQUITLAM
In July, Port Coquitlam council refused a temporary use permit to house the shelter at Grace Church on Kingsway Avenue in response to concerns from some neighbours even though police said homeless people using the shelter weren't a problem (see story on age A9).
Thiessen couldn't convince Coquitlam council to accept the bridge shelter either, although a church had come forward to host the program.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said the city is moving forward on plans for a permanent shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave.
"I'm concerned that we approach this situation with care," he said. "In Coquitlam, we've done more — we stepped up in a significant way in providing land for an shelter that that will be open in under two years."
Meanwhile, PoCo Mayor Greg Moore said he had hoped a solution could be found and said he supports a homeless shelter, especially if community concerns could be addressed.
But Thiessen said he couldn't set up a series of temporary shelters without any assurances they would be approved by Coquitlam and PoCo councils because people were quitting jobs to be shelter workers, and food and supplies were already being purchased by volunteers
With the shelter program that previously took hundreds of people off the street since starting in 2007/’08 now in mothballs, advocates are worried about what will happen to homeless people and the community.
"They're managed, right, when they go to the shelter," explained Bart Phillips, a former shelter resident.
It's estimated that homeless people cost $40,000 in emergency, police and related costs, as well as $70,000 when cities have to go in and dismantle homeless camps.
Julie Chuter, who was to co-ordinate the bridge shelter at St. Andrew's United, said the loss of the shelter is also a blow to volunteers, including Dr. Charles Best secondary school students, who were looking forward to helping the neediest most vulnerable people in the community.
"To say that we are disappointed and disheartened is an understatement," Chuter said. "We have worked very hard to pull together our volunteers and supplies for the bridge shelter — as we have worked tirelessly to prepare for our homeless guests for the month of October.
"While the plan has been a bit of a moving target, I did not expect this news," she said.