The beds are in ready.
The organizers are not.
This week, Coquitlam city council OK’d four churches to host a winter shelter — previously called the cold/wet weather mat program — for people without homes. They are the:
- Calvary Baptist Church (1636 Regan Ave.)
- Coquitlam Alliance Church (2601 Spuraway Ave.)
- Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship (1160 Lansdowne Dr.)
- St. Laurence Anglican Church (825 St. Laurence St.)
But while the churches have stepped up, the BC Housing funding is in place and the need is “greater than ever,” said Polly Krier of the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group — with the permanent homeless shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam at capacity since Day 1 — there’s currently no operator to run the seasonal program at the churches.
Now, the city is making an urgent plea for providers before the weather turns for the worse.
At its Nov. 1 meeting, following a public input to extend the temporary use permits for the four churches, council pressed operators to come forward so the program can roll out on a rotating basis at the churches, starting Dec. 1.
Last month, Port Moody city council approved the use of the Kyle Centre as an extreme weather refuge to be run by the Phoenix Society; the sanctuary opened last night (Thursday) and will continue for the weekend, Krier said.
That organization, which is also in charge of the Coquitlam Emergency Response Centre at the former Sure Stay Hotel on Brunette Avenue, opened a 20-bed extreme weather shelter in Coquitlam in February, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Robson Drive.
Krier said the non-profit is stretched thin and doesn’t have enough resources for the Coquitlam winter shelter as it’s also operating programs in Surrey and Delta.
Genevieve Bucher, Coquitlam’s manager of community planning, told council on Monday that if no contractor is found, the winter shelter won’t run at all — or on a very limited basis.
“Unfortunately, we in the Tri-Cities are not alone,” Krier told the Tri-City News. “It’s something that communities throughout the province and the country are dealing with: there’s a shortage of staff, and the need has grown.”
“In fact, the need is greater than ever.”
Krier said the pandemic has put pressure on the outreach and “we would be grateful if the winter shelter is open every night until March. Then, we would be able to house another 20 people and give them proper care."
"We have everything in place to open except a provider.”
Previously, the Hope For Freedom Society ran the winter shelter from 2007–2015 and 2018–2020, but it had a recent shift in organizational priorities, Bucher said.
Its replacement will be required to operate the winter shelter at the four churches between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., as well as provide meals, transportation and health supports.
Coun. Dennis Marsden thanked the members of the four churches for their leadership and volunteerism “for a program I wish we didn’t need.”
And he took aim at the social media commentators who are critical of the homelessness program. “They are Tri-City residents. They may not have a fixed address, but they call Coquitlam home,” he said.
Marsden also cited past fears in neighbourhoods where a winter shelter program is operating, saying there is no criminal correlation as the participants are supervised at all times.
“No, they’re not walking through your community. No, they’re not breaking into your car. They’re going outside, perhaps having a smoke, then going back inside,” he said.
Coun. Brent Asmundson recalled the angst in the community when the winter shelter program was introduced in 2007, but “those concerns that people raised have never materialized. Some didn’t even know it was there.”
Answering a public input question about the need for more permanent homelessness solutions, Mayor Richard Stewart said the city has “looked repeatedly to the province” for action on their portfolio.
The calls for a winter shelter program operator come after the City of Coquitlam secured $306,081 in August to address the increased homeless demographic.
— with files from Diane Strandberg and Kyle Balzer