White Rock extreme-weather shelter volunteers Ana and Kukki. (Contributed photo)

White Rock extreme-weather shelter volunteers Ana and Kukki. (Contributed photo)

White Rock extreme-weather shelter reports record attendance

Volunteer co-ordinator Joan McMurtry says permanent shelter not the solution

Despite this winter’s rather balmy winter weather, White Rock’s extreme-weather shelter is seeing a record number of overnight guests.

The shelter, which only opens during extreme-weather events or if temperatures dip close to 0ºC, had as many as 26 guests one evening this year, breaking last year’s high of 22. The shelter averages 17-18 people per night.

Volunteer co-ordinator JoanMcMurtry – who volunteered at the shelter Christmas morning – said she’s unsure why there has been an increase in usage.

“It’s hard for us to know exactly why that is,” she told Peace Arch News Thursday. “We’re not sure what those dynamics are. We’re seeing a younger crowd, people in their 20s and 30s.”

The extreme-weather shelter, organized by Peninsula United, moved to Star of the Sea hall this year after spending many years inside First United Church.

First United Church, in its current form, will soon cease to exist. Construction on a four-storey building, which is to include a new United Church space and 82 assisted-living units, is expected to begin in 2019.

The White Rock extreme-weather shelter was open three days in November and 30 days this month.

McMurtry told PAN that White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker volunteered for a shift from 5:45-7:45 a.m., Dec. 14.

“He helped make sandwiches, served coffee to our guests and mopped the floor of Star of the Sea and had a chance to chat with a few of the volunteers and staff,” McMurtry said.

“We really appreciated him coming and it shows his interest and concern. It gives him a better awareness of the people that come through and what the shelter is all about.”

McMurtry said the shelter is a temporary solution to a bigger problem.

“When anyone gets into trouble around work or because of health issues, they’re stuck,” McMurtry said. “There’s not the accommodation to easily find a place and you end up overnight in the shelter. They come, they’re very appreciative of what we do for them.

“Some people say we need a permanent shelter, but I say no,” she said. “What we need is permanent housing, we need housing to be build in our community that includes supportive housing. Where folks who have been out on the streets for a while and are under the weather, health-wise, can get support. That’s what we need.”

She said that land, and “an infusion of money” from the provincial and federal government is required.

“Really, our purpose is to save people from freezing to death, getting frostbite. That’s the bottom line, anything else we can do is on top of that.”

Currently, the shelter is in need of winter coats. Donations can be made to Peninsula United head office, located at 15639 24 Ave.

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