The Hope for Freedom Society has found two more churches to participate in its cold/wet weather mat program to help the homeless this winter.
Rob Thiessen, the organization’s director, said he is seeking a temporary use permit from the city of Coquitlam to allow for the operation of homeless shelter at Cornerstone Seventh-Day Adventist Church in January and St. Laurence Anglican in March. The item will be discussed at a public hearing next Monday at city hall.
“Some of the churches we have used in the past are no longer available,” Thiessen said, noting St. Andrews United in Port Moody is being redeveloped and the new owners of the former Grace Christian Fellowship in Port Coquitlam have decided not to participate in the shelter program.
The cold/wet weather mat program has existed in the Tri-Cities since 2007, rotating between churches each month to offer homeless people a place to sleep in the wintertime. The program was put on hiatus following the opening of a permanent facility at 3030 Gordon Ave. in 2015.
But following a sharp increase in the number of homeless people in the Tri-Cities, BC Housing asked Thiessen to revive the initiative earlier this year.
The program operates the same way it did between 2007 and 2015. Shelter users are bused to the site from a pre-determined meeting point and the operation is staffed by volunteers between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Thiessen said most residents don’t realize a shelter is operating in their neighbourhood because the homeless people are brought in late at night and leave early in the morning. He added that when the shelter ran previously, Hope for Freedom was successful at getting hundreds of people into permanent housing.
So far this year, Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship hosted the shelter in October, followed by Calvary Baptist Church in November. The program is currently operating out of Coquitlam Alliance Church until the end of December.
“It has been going good,” Thiessen said of the first two months of operation, noting that four people in October were moved off the street and into treatment.
Still, he said attendance has not been as brisk as he had initially expected.
“We’ve been hovering around half,” Thiessen said, adding that about 10 to 15 people use the shelter each night.
He said it could take a while for word to get out to the homeless community that the rotating shelter is back. With temperatures dipping this week, Thiessen added, it is likely more homeless people will take advantage of the program.