Coquitlam has approved temporary use permits to allow emergency weather shelters at two city churches despite concerns from several residents who spoke at a public hearing Monday night.
The churches are being added to the rotation of shelters that have been set up during the winter months by the Hope for Freedom Society since 2007. Two churches the society used previously are unable to continue the program. St. Andrews Anglican in Port Moody is being redeveloped and another church in Port Coquitlam has been sold. So it recruited Cornerstone Seventh-Day Adventist (1415 Noon’s Creek Drive) and St. Laurence Anglican (825 St. Laurence St.) to replace them.
Most of the emailed complaints submitted to a public hearing held Monday, said Mayor Richard Stewart, focused on homeless wandering around in their neighbourhood. But Stewart and Hope for Freedom managing director Rob Thiessen said the society, on cold nights, uses a vehicle to pick up Tri-Cities homeless people and take them to the church, give them a meal and a place to sleep at night, and then after giving the breakfast take them back to where they were picked up at 7 a.m.
“There is no ability for our visitors to mix in the neighbourhood," Thiessen told the hearing Monday. "They are confined to the place where they sleep, eat and go to the washrooms.”
Despite reassurances from Hope for Freedom's representative, two residents with children in the daycare at Cornerstone complained about the initiative during Monday's public hearing. One claimed studies show homeless are more susceptible to tuberculosis and pneumonia because of weakened immune systems and since the bacteria can remain in ventilation systems for four hours, children in the daycare would be vulnerable. He wanted a qualified medical assessment and remediation carried out before approval would be given,
Thiessen, however, dismissed the suggestion outright.
“To put it bluntly, people would have to have some sort of sexual contact or share a needle to get it,” said Thiessen.
In an interview Tuesday, Coun. Craig Hodge said there were similar discussions three months ago about one of the current participating churches, Calvary Baptist on Regan Avenue, which also has a daycare.
“The concerns are serious, but they are very low risk considering the same germs are floating around getting on a bus or in a shopping mall,” said Hodge. “The churches have shown they do a real good job on the clean up.”
Thiessen said the society knows most of the homeless and where they are because it is working to help get them off the streets on a permanent basis. It only provides temporary shelter at times of year when the weather is very bad.
“Our organization isn’t particularly crazy about homeless shelters,” said Thiessen. “Shelters are just a stepping stone. We see them as a triage or a MASH unit.”
Thiessen said in October the organization provided a different way to live for seven of the homeless in the Tri-Cities. One is permanently housed and four are in treatment. Two of them are in the 3030 Gordon shelter, but he still considers them homeless. He added Hope for Freedom got five more people into treatment in November.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. Our primary goal is to get the homeless housed,” said Thiessen.
He noted there’s a positive impact to the churches that participate.
Patrick McGrath, a parishioner at St. Andrews United in Port Moody, which is redeveloping its property to provide affordable housing, said while the first year was tough, the homeless who took shelter there treated them with respect and the church didn’t have any issues with cigarette butts or needles on the ground.
“By seven o’clock they were gone. Nobody even noticed they were there,” said McGrath. “The church had never been cleaner.”
He pointed out one local business leader originally opposed the shelter, but she became a volunteer in the second year.
Calvary Baptist, Coquitlam Alliance Church and Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship have already taken turns providing the shelter with Coquitlam Alliance, 2601 Spuraway Ave., the location for December. Hope for Freedom’s rotation calls for Cornerstone to take over in January with St. Laurence’s turn coming in March. Coquitlam Alliance will do a second stint in February.