Emergency shelter mats rolled up as weather warms

Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries not funded to stay open extra days

  • Dec. 21, 2016 10:00 a.m.
Darrell Pilgrim says allowing pets in emergency shelter is working out.

Darrell Pilgrim says allowing pets in emergency shelter is working out.

Temperatures are back to above 0 C, so that means people will be turned away again if there’s no room at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries’ 30-bed emergency shelter.

That shelter remains full, as does the transitional area where people are farther along in the process of finding their own homes.

But the 20 or so mats that were rolled out in the shelter’s dining room the last two weeks during the cold spell were rolled up again on Tuesday morning, as the weather warmed.

At 8 a.m., Tuesday, “We ended our extreme-weather alert,” said Darrell Pilgrim, executive-director with the Salvation Army.

That means, if the emergency shelter is full, people will be turned out into the night, even if snow is still on the ground.

That means usually about three or four people are turned away at night.

“I can understand how it’s frustrating,” said Pilgrim.

“We have to follow those requirements, also. We can’t do it if we don’t have the funding for it.”

Ideally, he added, there would be space for everyone.

“People have a right to be housed. People have to be somewhere.”

But he didn’t know where people will go if they can’t get in.

BC Housing’s extreme-weather response program is in place from November to March 31. Each city determines when an alert should be declared. In Maple Ridge, the RCMP, Salvation Army and the city make the decision jointly, largely based on if the temperature will dip to 0 C.

Shelters then bill BC Housing each month for the number of extreme weather beds they provided.

Last week, about 20 people every night were sleeping on the mats in the Salvation Army’s dining room.

So far, people seem to have coped with the cold spell, Pilgrim said.

“People are getting the services that are available to them.”

Kris Dennhardt disagrees with ending the emergency mat program.

“Where are the humans supposed to go and where do they get some rest or food, toilets and laundry to dry their soaked clothing? Do they have a 50-50 chance of catching a deadly sickness or would that be dying of natural causes/winter conditions?,” he wrote in an email.

He asked later, what happens to the 20 people who had been sleeping on the mats for the last two weeks.

“This is actually devastating. They have nowhere to go.”

The RainCity shelter was also full most nights last week.

Last June, the Salvation Army ended its laundry service. As well, showers are no longer available for people who are not staying at the shelter.

The community advisory council helped decide to end that service, also as a way to reduce traffic and the number of people hanging around the building on 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway.

“We had a lot of traffic around our building, people who weren’t staying here,” Pilgrim said.

That change made it easier on the neighbours.

“It’s helped us put our energy and our focus on people staying in the shelter, and to help them with finding housing, going to treatment, medical concerns,” said Pilgrim.

The Salvation Army emergency shelter also now allows people to stay inside all day, instead of kicking them out in the morning, and they can bring in their pets and some of their possessions. Drugs or alcohol continue to be banned from the premises.

On its website, the Salvation Army refers to its emergency shelter program as low-barrier.

“We’ve always been low barrier, always,” said Pilgrim.

The term, though, has different meanings.

The changes, partly as result of changes in the Salvation Army’s national policy, as well as BC Housing standards, have helped a lot, he added.

However, there’s not much space in the shelter for storing possessions.

“Having pets have been great for everybody. Pets are calming and healing, in my opinion. We’re very happy with that program.”

Help Kettle campaign

The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle campaign needs help. With five days to go before Christmas, only half of the $100,000 has been collected for local programs offered throughout the year.

“We have lots of volunteer spots,” to man kettles, Pilgrim said.

The cold weather, he added, affected the number of volunteers.