While it’s hoped there will be 130 to 140 “extreme weather” beds for the homeless ready to open in Surrey and White Rock when conditions become dangerous, the numbers are far from that at this point.
Jonquil Hallgate, who is the extreme weather co-ordinator for Surrey and White Rock, says there’s only about 60 to 70 spaces confirmed at this point.
“We are still in need of some additional locations,” she told the Now-Leader on Oct. 30.
“A lot of the beds we’ve had in the past have become semi-permanent or full-time spaces for people, when 135A Street closed, so we are still looking for spaces in Newton, and some spaces in North Surrey.”
This means fewer than normal are part of the province’s Extreme Weather Response program, because they’re now in operation year round.
Nightshift Street Ministries in Whalley will once again open extreme weather beds specifically for women, and Pacific Community Resource Society will do the same in the same area for youth. In Cloverdale, Pacific Community Church can be called to open, and in the south, Peninsula United Church has partnered with Star of the Sea Catholic Church in White Rock to offer beds, if needed.
But that leaves a large gap in the city’s north end, where the need is high, said Hallgate.
What spaces are ideal?
“We need to have something that’s a central location, either close to transportation or is easy for people in North Surrey can walk to, and the same in Newton. It should be something in the town centre to allow people to access it easily,” said Hallgate.
“Or if a church, for example, has a gathering room that can accommodate 10 to 30 people, for people on mats, and if we can get in from say anywhere from 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock in the evening and be out by 7 (a.m.) in the morning,” she added, noting extreme weather beds still means people must brave the weather during the day.
Empty storefronts would also work, Hallgate said.
The location would ideally also have a place to store mats and blankets.
Anyone who has space to offer, can email Hallgate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also needed are donations for those living on the street, said Hallgate.
Chapstick, cough candies, easy-to-eat snacks, jackets, clean underwear, socks, thin blankets and toiletries such as tooth paste, tooth brushes, deodorant, shampoo and soap are needed. As are toques, mitts, hand warmers, and boots.
Contact Hallgate at the email above to arrange drop-off.
A total of 602 homeless people were identified in Surrey in the most recent 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, done every three years.
That was a 49 per cent increase (199 more people) than were counted in Surrey in 2014, the last time the count occurred.
But, as Hallgate has often stressed, “the count doesn’t give us the number we believe is the reality.”
Last June, an estimated 160 homeless people were moved into temporary Whalley modular units.
But the executive director of Lookout Housing and Health Society, which runs the temporary housing, says there still isn’t enough shelter to meet the demand, despite the new units, which he called a “fantastic start.”
“We’re still turning people away everyday from the shelter (on 135A Street),” said Keir Macdonald.
What is the Extreme Weather Response program?
The Extreme Weather Response (EWR) program is a provincially funded initiative that officially runs from Nov. 1 to March 31, although in past years, awful weather has resulted in calls to open in October.
This year, the provincial government say it’s providing more than 1,400 temporary shelter spaces and over 750 extreme weather response shelter spaces, in partnership with municipalities and non-profits in approximately 65 communities around B.C.
The beds, often mats on the floor of a building, open “to provide additional temporary emergency shelter spaces during periods of extreme winter weather which threaten the health and safety of individuals experiencing homelessness,” according to BC Housing.
The program is designed to “provide time-limited, weather responsive, temporary shelter spaces in communities where there is not sufficient emergency shelter bed capacity during extreme weather conditions.”
The extreme weather response shelter spaces supplement the almost 2,000 permanent, year-round shelter spaces available throughout the province.
In Surrey, the beds are called to open if temperatures are at or below 0 degrees Celsius, if there if significant snow or rain, or significant windstorms that “may present danger to persons living in wooded areas and/or makeshift shelters.”
Wind, rain and snow weather alerts can also launch an opening.