Faced by a diminishing timeline and a potential for ballooning costs, White Rock council has rejected pitching a temporary tent to serve as a daytime warming shelter for Semiahmoo Peninsula homeless.
In its place it has endorsed a longer-term approach – suggested by recreation and culture director Eric Stepura and moved by Coun. Anthony Manning – in which city staff would join with representatives of the City of Surrey and other stakeholders to “address the needs of at-risk and vulnerable people living in White Rock and South Surrey, including those who are food insecure and homeless.”
Cheryl Lightowlers and Kathy Booth had appeared before council on Feb. 8 to plead for the establishment of a daytime warming shelter in White Rock to augment the night-time cold-weather shelter being provided at Peace Portal Alliance Church.
At that time, council supported Manning’s motion to refer the matter to staff for a report on options for providing a daytime warming centre for 25 to 30 people.
But in a verbal report to council at March 8’s virtual meeting, Stepura said that the lack of available city facilities, the unsuitability of commercial property and the cost of hiring trained staff – which he strongly recommended – were all obstacles. The only potential solution for providing a warming shelter immediately, he said, would be to use $10,000 from the city’s COVID-19 Restart Grant budget to rent and install a tent in the parking lot at Centennial Park until April 15.
A motion from Coun. Scott Kristjanson to do just that was not seconded; instead, the remainder of council supported Manning’s motion.
“The need to help homeless and at-risk individuals goes far beyond just the warming shelter – it’s a year-round issue and it’s becoming more and more endemic,” Manning said. “The only thing that makes sense is going for the longer-term solution.”
“Our timing is very poor for this year,” Coun. David Chesney commented. “But it’s incredible for next year. As much as some in our community may want to see (this), up and running, Peace Portal Alliance, barring any major change, will be closing at the end of March. If we’re going to parallel them, running (it) to the middle of April doesn’t make any sense.”
Chesney also noted that in Stepura’s report, White Rock RCMP had provided a guesstimate that at any one time there are only zero to three homeless people on city streets.
“That’s three too many, but with that said, (taking the longer approach) is the best way for us to deal with this,” he said.
“Let’s just not put this on the backburner and forget about it. I hope our staff and City of Surrey staff can begin to work on this immediately, so we do have a solution by the time the weather gets cold again next year.”