The Semiahmoo Peninsula will once again offer an extreme-weather shelter for those seeking refuge from the cold and wet in the coming months.
But there are a couple of significant changes to the program this year – including a plan for it to open every night, not just when temperatures drop below freezing.
Second, the shelter will be operating at Peace Portal Alliance Church (15128 27B Ave. ) in South Surrey, not in White Rock’s Star of the Sea hall, where it has been for the past two years, following demolition of White Rock’s First United Church for redevelopment. Officials learned earlier this year that the hall would not be available for the shelter over the coming season.
Peace Portal was announced in May as a temporary shelter for the homeless during the pandemic, to be open every night until June 30. At that time, officials said a search was on for a new site, as well as to identify a site for a year-round shelter.
Now, it is one of just five extreme-weather shelters – offering a combined total of 52 mats for adults and six for youth – lined up for all of Surrey and White Rock for the coming winter, according to a report shared at the Oct. 19 Surrey council meeting. That’s compared to nine such shelters and a total of 153 spaces last year.
Jon LeFave, Peace Portal’s pastor of local and global engagement, said Monday (Oct. 26) that he was on a team that searched, to no avail, for a shelter site during the summer months.
Noting that people have been found sleeping on church property since before the COVID-19 pandemic – at times leaving belongings and causing mild damage – “we figure best to offer a warm space for people to sleep and in so doing mitigate the occurrences of folks sleeping in the forested areas around our church,” LeFave said.
The church being located close to bus routes for other resources is also a benefit to those accessing the shelter, he said.
Attendance at the temporary shelter averaged between eight and 10 people in May/June, and cooler days have served to demonstrate that the need continues.
“Since the weather has dipped in the last few weeks, we’ve had a few different folks looking for shelter on our property,” LeFave said.
In addition to a plan to offer space for 14 to hunker down overnight, Peace Portal has shower facilities guests may access, he added.
LeFave did not have a confirmed opening date, but said it’s hoped the shelter will be able to open early next month. Its hours will be from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
He does not expect the church to continue as an extreme-weather shelter for the long-term.
“We are seeing this as a unique commitment during the COVID season as many of the programs typically happening in our gymnasium have been put on pause during this season.”
A webinar to inform neighbours and answer questions is planned for tonight (Oct. 26) at 7:30 p.m. To register, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_CM342uwlTrq7GhcnvrZTfA
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