In just its third day of operation, the extreme weather shelter at the Kyle Centre had 13 people spending the night. Capacity is 15.
“It typically takes a month or so to get to capacity,” reflected Polly Krier, coordinator for the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group.
There has always been a need for homeless shelters in the coldest days of winter, Krier noted. But as climate change fuels extreme weather events, there’s an increasing need to be able to offer shelter during high winds and heavy rainfall.
“These are equally as dangerous for our homeless population – especially those who are living in the bush,” Krier noted.
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However, there may also be a need to offer greater supports to people in precarious living situations.
One Port Coquitlam family was flooded out of their basement suite during the recent storm, Krier noted.
“They’re scrambling [with] what to do and what the next steps are.”
The Tri-Cities is in need of brick-and-mortar help as well as programs to help the homeless population, Krier said.
“We will always have a need for an emergency shelter but we definitely need more services to help our homeless population learn life skills again and have a warm place to sleep. . . . We have a shortage of that in the Tri-Cities. A severe shortage.”
In a broader sense, the Tri-Cities need to support a housing continuum, according to Krier.
“We need a shelter and we need transitional housing. We need supportive housing. We need low-income, subsidized, transitional, all the way up to affordable and market housing.”
With winter approaching, Krier is still looking for a service provider that can help offer overnight shelters for homeless people.
Coquitlam recently approved the program but unless a service provider steps up, the shelter service may not be able open on Dec. 1 as planned.
“It’s not location, it’s not money,” Krier said. “It’s a service provider.”
Coquitlam council unanimously approved the shelter program Nov. 1. The plan is for the program to kick off Dec. 1 and rotate between four churches until March – but as of press time there is still no service provider to run the program.
Without an operator, “the program will be significantly reduced or not be able to run this season,” according to a city staff report.
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.
Discussing the program earlier this month, Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart noted that it fell short of being a permanent solution.
“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,” he said, referring to3030 Gordon Avenue. “The city by itself can’t do anything,” he said.