When nights get cold and wet, Coquitlam’s most vulnerable population may have somewhere to go this winter, following a unanimous decision by council Monday.

The temporary cold/wet weather shelter system would rotate between four churches throughout the city. However, a service operator is still needed to run the program, emphasized Coun. Dennis Marsden.

“If you’re out there and have the capacity, please reach out to the city,” Marsden said.

Original operator Hope for Freedom Society stopped running the program in 2020.

Without an operator, “the program will be significantly reduced or not be able to run this season,” according to a city staff report.

Unfortunate comments

Discussing what he referred to as “unfortunate comments” about homeless shelters on social media, Marsden addressed a query about whether council would support a shelter in their own neighbourhoods.

“Two of these locations are in my neighbourhood,” Marsden said. “And I am going to support this.”

Rather than walk-in shelters, residents of these temporary shelters would be driven to the church at around 8 p.m. in the evening and be taken back to where they were the following morning. If a resident wants to step outside for a cigarette or a breath of fresh air, they would have to be supervised by a volunteer, Marsden noted.

“No, they’re not walking through your community. No, they’re not breaking into your car,” he said. “They are residents of our community. They may not have a fixed address but they call this city home. . . . This is a small piece that we can do to help put a roof over their head and keep them warm for a night.”

The churches

  • Calvary Baptist Church at 1636 Regan Avenue
  • Coquitlam Alliance Church at 2601 Spuraway Avenue
  • Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship at 1160 Lansdowne Drive
  • St. Laurence Anglican Church at 825 St Laurence Street

The three-year program is slated to begin Dec. 1 and wrap up in March with each church hosting the shelter for about one month.

‘Temporary’ program?

Only one member of the public spoke during Monday’s meeting. While she didn’t oppose the continuation of the 14-year-old program, she noted that it doesn’t seem temporary anymore. She concluded by asking council to look for an “effective permanent solution.”

“Your comments aren’t lost on council,” Mayor Richard Stewart replied. “Right now we’re working with the province on trying to improve the operation of the permanent shelter – notwithstanding that it doesn’t meet the need here in the Tri-Cities.”

The housing at 3030 Gordon Avenue: “has been full since the day it opened,” Stewart added, suggesting Riverview Hospital might be the site of a “more permanent solution.”

However, the issue ultimately falls to the province, according to Stewart.

“The city by itself can’t do anything,” he said.

Discussing opposition to the program, Stewart recalled a resident who found out a temporary homeless shelter had been operating in his neighbourhood for years and asked why he didn’t know.

“Because it works,” Stewart said. “There’s just no impact on neighbourhoods.”

While a certain amount of fear is understandable, Stewart suggested that fear was associated with a level of ignorance.

“The antidote to fear is information in most cases,” he said.

Noting that the evening’s forecast was for rain all night, Stewart talked about what the shelters can be besides a place to spend the night.

“There are some transformations that can come out of cold/wet weather mat program. People can be connected to the services they need or the employment they need.”

Rules

Shelter residents “will be evicted” for the possession or consumption of drugs or alcohol, or abusive behaviour, according to the staff report.

Hours are between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Neighbours are slated to be provided with a name and phone number to call any time of day if they have a problem with the shelter.