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Updated: Emergency shelter set to open in Coquitlam church as snow falls

Coquitlam mayor "ecstatic" as BC Housing finalizes plan to open emergency homeless shelter even though Riverview is not the chosen location
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BC Housing expects to have an extreme weather response shelter open in the coming days.

An emergency shelter for Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody homeless is opening Saturday night.

In a Tweet, the Phoenix Society said the shelter would open up for 20 beds.

Sources say the much-needed shelter will be in a Coquitlam church, has been approved.

Transportation for homeless to the church is also being arranged, sources say.

A BC Housing official said Friday it was working with a faith community and Hope for Freedom Society to get an extreme weather response (EWR) shelter open close to transit, food and health care resources in the Tri-Cities.

“We know there is an urgent need for more shelter spaces, particularly during these freezing temperatures,” a spokesperson for the provincial agency stated in an email.

Laura Mathews, manager of media relations and issues management for BC Housing confirmed Friday that the shelter will be available “in the coming days.”

An EWR shelter operates every year from Nov. 1 to March 31 and is opened when weather conditions warrant an extreme weather alert.

But a long-standing EWR in Port Coquitlam at Trinity United Church was not opened this winter due to COVID-19.

The news of an emergency shelter coming available for local homeless comes as Environment Canada predicts continuing cold weather and snow in the region.

COQUITLAM MAYOR ‘ECSTATIC’

Mathews acknowledged that the need for social distancing due to COVID-19 has “complicated” the establishment of an EWR and shelters in many communities, including the Tri-Cities.

However, plans are now for a church-based EWR to open during extreme cold snaps and accommodate people not currently housed in the 3030 Gordon shelter, which is currently at capacity.

Mathews did not provide the location of the church, the number of people it could take in or the date the space would open.

However, her statement discounted Riverview as a possible location for the extreme weather response shelter, despite some buildings being lit, heated and unoccupied.

According to Mathews, Riverview buildings currently vacant are not suitable.

“Most of the buildings on the Riverview Lands are tenanted, and the institutional nature of the buildings are not an ideal setting for sheltering marginalized populations,” Mathews stated.

The site of the former psychiatric hospital had been suggested as a possible emergency shelter by Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart as the cold weather worsened.

But he told the Tri-City News that he welcomes the news that BC Housing has found a site for an emergency shelter.

“I am ecstatic, because this weather needs a response,” he said.

COQUITLAM MAYOR SAYS CITIES NOT TO BLAME

Stewart took issue with complaints by homelessness and housing advocates stating cities had not done enough to come up with space for a shelter, saying he has been in conversations with various agencies and churches with the goal of finding a solution.

He said he suggested Riverview because he was inside Centre Lawn as recently as last Friday on a BC Housing tour for an unrelated issue and found it to be warm, bright and clean.

He had envisioned the space being used as a temporary shelter that could also provide supports that might eventually turn into more resources for addiction recovery and mental health services.

However, he told the Tri-City News that he wants Riverview to be repurposed for mental health supports, and that should be the main goal.

“Right now, there are no on-demand services for addictions and mental health and I want it to go back to ensuring that folks that need help get access to it right now,” said the mayor. 

He added: “From our perspective, that’s the future of Riverview, to support mental health.”

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