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Advocates give group its mandate at Coquitlam homelessness forum

Low Entropy needs to find ways to build a community hub for the Tri-City homeless, provide more mental health supports and create more affordable housing, participants told the nonprofit.

As BC Housing and Tri-City homelessness advocates scramble to find new space for the Extreme Weather Response Shelter (EWRS) this fall while the Kyle Centre in Port Moody undergoes renovations, a non-profit group is narrowing its outreach targets on how to help the community’s “unhoused friends.”

Today, March 1, the Low Entropy Foundation hosted its inaugural homelessness forum with more than 70 participants — including civic politicians, social workers and those with lived experiences — to identify where the non-profit group and its volunteers can focus their resources.

About 160 people in the Tri-Cities are unhoused, according to a homelessness count last year, and more youth and seniors are on the list than in previous years.

Attendees at the hour-long brainstorming session at the City Centre branch of the Coquitlam Public Library zeroed in on three priorities:

  • build a community hub with showers and a laundry service
  • provide more mental health supports
  • create more affordable housing

Other ideas for helping the homeless included:

  • offering cell phones
  • ensuring shelter staff are trained
  • having free legal advice available
  • retrofitting unused recreational vehicles
  • providing pet-friendly modular homes
  • requiring clearer communications between agencies

While the mayors of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody did not attend, PoCo Coun. Glenn Pollock, Port Moody Coun. Haven Lurbiecki (a former policy analyst with the First Nations Health Authority) and SD43 Trustee Jennifer Blatherwick were on hand to listen to the stories from the audience, which included the foundation’s new board chair Ed Hall, a former chief of the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem) First Nation.

Vanessa Wideski, a co-executive director for Low Entropy, told the Tri-City News she was pleased with the turn-out, but wasn’t surprised given the need.

“The community is invested and wants to help out,” she said, noting the foundation is now waiting to see if its federal grant application is successful.

A man who is without a home told the crowd that, with the cost of housing, street people would be less than the response cycle that’s happening today.

He called on politicians, emergency personnel and health professionals to “treat us like humans.”

A manager at The Alex in Port Coquitlam — a rental facility for women and their children under the Atira Women’s Resource Society that just marked its first anniversary — said the demand for affordable housing is real in Metro Vancouver.

Yesterday, Feb. 29, she said, she turned away three families and sent them looking for accommodations in Surrey and Vancouver.

Still, she’s buoyed that the community is coming together to find solutions. “It gives me so much hope.”

As for the Extreme Weather Response Shelter at the Kyle Centre, it closes April 15, 2024; however, a spokesperson for BC Housing told the Tri-City News that shelter funding will continue for the 2024–25 season.

To learn more about Low Entropy, donate or volunteer, you can visit the foundation’s website.