They knew there would be a need. Still, they didn’t expect this.
Initially intended to be a temporary backstop for the most vulnerable people in the Tri-Cities, the Kyle Centre has been running at near-capacity every single night for two months through torrential rain, below freezing temperatures, snow, and another atmospheric river.
“We’ve pretty much been nonstop since we started,” explains Phoenix Society CEO Keir Macdonald. “We had no idea going in there would be this level of demand.”
The Phoenix Society started operating at the centre in November and began nearing capacity within the first week.
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“It typically takes a month or so to get to capacity,” noted Polly Krier, coordinator for the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group.
With weather getting worse through the end of 2021 and Coquitlam initially struggling to find an operator for the city’s cold weather shelter program, the Kyle Centre has been, “a place of last resort,” according to Macdonald.
“It is a lifesaving service for so many,” he says. “Tri-Cities is not known for this level of need.”
Port Moody council supported the shelter program in 2021, with Coun. Amy Lubik noting the acute need in June.
“Even without COVID-19 in early 2020 the Tri-Cities were not prepared to shelter the most precarious and marginalized of our community,” Lubik wrote. “We have been caught leaving people in the cold two years in a row. In a changing climate, we are likely to see more extreme weather which will continue to impact the most marginalized community members.”
Increasing capacity with demand
As demand increased over Christmas, the shelter expanded from 15 to 20 spots.
“We were lucky we didn’t have to turn anyone away,” Macdonald says.
Recently, Kyle Centre has sheltered people from another torrential rainfall.
“People were riding the SkyTrain all day if they could, just to stay out of the weather,” he says. “People had no chance of getting dry, they had no chance of taking shelter anywhere else.”
Guests at the shelter range in age from 19 to 70, Macdonald says. Some are referred through first responders including police. A few have been referred to treatment programs at Hope for Freedom Society. One guy would spend the night at Kyle Centre and in the morning he’d grab his steel toed boots and head to his construction job.
A temporary fix to a permanent problem
The variety of people in need underscores the need for longer-term solutions, according to Macdonald.
“We need permanent solutions,” he says. “We need more below-market housing, we need more supportive housing and quite frankly I think there’s enough demand to require another permanent shelter in the Tri-Cities as well.”
Continuously operating the shelter for two months has been a challenge, Macdonald acknowledges.
“This program isn’t designed – or resourced, quite frankly – to be open permanently.”
However, the support from the community has been overwhelming, he adds.
Besides the Port Moody Soccer Club running a clothing drive there have also been donations of gloves and socks. Last week, someone ordered and paid for pizza for everyone at Kyle Centre.
“The community support has been amazing.”
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