Cold weather shelter too full, buses homeless to other communities

The Gateway of Hope shelter has had send some people to other shelters as they ran out of room.

Langley’s Gateway of Hope homeless shelter is so full that on a few nights this year, it has had to turn away people from its Extreme Weather Response program.

The program activates on particularly cold and wet nights, and provides an additional 15 beds, bringing the total number of mats to 45, including the regular emergency shelter.

“Some nights we’re full, last night [Sunday], we only had five,” said Tiffany Sawatzky, the residential services manager at Gateway of Hope.

On a few nights, they have had more than 15 people and have had to turn people away. Sawatzky said they have never turned away more than three people.

To help people who still need somewhere to sleep, the shelter is running a BC Housing pilot project that gives people free bus tickets and listings of shelters in other communities. Most of them are in Surrey.

But Sawatzky said sometimes people don’t want to leave the Langley area and don’t accept the tickets.

“It’s busier when it rains,” Sawatzky said. Rain makes it harder to keep warm.

The Extreme Weather Response has been running in Langley for more than a decade. Before Gateway of Hope was built, the program hosted people in local churches.

So far, the program has been activated for 12 nights this year.

The Gateway of Hope currently already has a large number of shelter beds. Last year, BC Housing provided funding to expand its shelter program to deal with a surge of people expected after Langley City closed down a homeless camp in a park on the Nicomekl River floodplain. The camp was cleared out partly because of fears for the campers’ safety, in an area where water can rise quickly during heavy rain.

That program was meant to be temporary, lasting through the winter of 2016/17, but it has been renewed and has now run for more than a year and a half.

There are presently no plans to expand the shelter, but BC Housing is planning for a 49-room supportive housing project in the former Quality Inn near 200th Street and 66th Avenue.

That project has proved controversial with nearby residents.

• Read More: Residents seek info on Langley supportive housing plans

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