White Rock’s extreme-weather shelter has closed for the season, and statistics show it was not only a busy one but highlighted the urgency for more long-term solutions.
According to figures shared this week, a total of 1,639 overnight guests were logged at the Star of the Sea Hall over the 90 nights that the shelter operated between Nov. 25 and March 12.
It was a “significant increase,” shelter volunteer co-ordinator Joan McMurtry said Friday, at the Peninsula Homeless to Housing task force’s monthly meeting.
During the 2017-’18 season, when the shelter opened 71 times, 917 guests were recorded; in 2016-’17, there were 812 over 73 nights.
Operated by Peninsula United Church – with Options Community Services Society – the shelter only opens during extreme-weather events or if temperatures dip close to zero.
Shelter spokesperson Kathy Booth noted Friday that this season included “the coldest February on record.”
“We’re just so grateful that we were able to keep a lot of people alive,” she said.
Both she and McMurtry expressed concern for guests who are homeless and have serious health issues. One person seen this season ended up in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but still had no housing once released; another told of receiving chemotherapy while having no place to live.
The examples strengthen the urgency for “other remedies” to homelessness, Booth said.
The two women also noted that the population accessing the shelter is aging and “increasingly more fragile.”
“I think the perception is people are all mentally ill or addicted, and that’s not the case,” Booth said.
Other statistics shared this week include that the busiest nights at the shelter were in March, when as many as 29 guests came to stay in one night.
That same month, an average of 25 people per night was logged over 12 days open, compared to the season’s average of 18 per night.
February saw the highest number of guests, with 543 recorded over 27 days.
Shelter officials told Peace Arch News in December that as many as 26 people were using the shelter on any given night. At the time, that number was a new record for the shelter.