Tracy Scott said many homeless people are used to the cold weather. (THE NEWS files)

Tracy Scott said many homeless people are used to the cold weather. (THE NEWS files)

Helping homeless stay warm in Maple Ridge

Many Anita Place residents staying in their tents

With potentially record cold temperatures descending on the Lower Mainland, volunteers are ramping up their efforts to keep the homeless safe from the February freeze.

Homeless people are filling up the 60-bed Salvation Army shelter, they are using the additional 25 extreme weather beds at the former RainCity shelter location on Lougheed Highway, which is also run by the Salvation Army, and some are taking advantage of the new mat program being run by the Hope For Freedom Society at local churches.

Despite these options, many of the residents of the Anita Place Tent City, are braving the freezing temperatures, afraid of losing their few possessions if they leave them to go to a shelter, said homeless advocate Chris Bossley.

“It’s a huge concern for them,” she said. “They don’t have a lot, and what they do have means a lot to them.”

Bossley has photographs and other objects with sentimental value that the camp residents have given her for safe keeping.

She said the cold is an ordeal for the homeless.

“I tell people, ‘Go stand on your patio for an hour, and see how you feel.’”

Rob Thiessen of the Hope for Freedom society said so far the attendance in the mat program has been in single digits – nine is the most who have passed the night at a local church so far.

Bossley said she has encouraged camp residents to take advantage of the generosity of the churches, which collect clients in a van at 9:45 p.m., prepare coffee and a meal at night, let them pass the night in the church on a mat, and give them breakfast and a bag lunch.

“It’s a very good service, and I think it fills a gap,” said Bossley.

She said the church community seems excited to be helping, and she likes that more people are rallying around the homeless.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” she said. “It’s bringing people on board.”

The Salvation Army is continuing its extreme weather program, and executive director Darrell Pilgrim said it is drawing about seven or eight people to the former RainCity shelter each night. There are 25 extreme weather beds available there.

He said that number is deceiving, because last year the Sally Ann offered only 30 shelter beds, but the shelter was expanded to 60 last March, after the RainCity shelter was closed.

The shelter has 30 permanent beds, where clients can stay 24/7, and another 30 temporary beds, that are available from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m. the next day. Clients also get an evening meal and breakfast at all Salvation Army shelters.

Those 60 year-round beds are always full on these cold nights, said Pilgrim.

He would like to see the camp residents come inside during the extreme cold, which is forecast to continue through the weekend, with snow in the forecast Friday.

“I want people to be comfortable and health and make the best choices for themselves,” he said. “We’re here for anybody who wants to come in.”

Bossley said she has been asking B.C. Housing about bringing the homeless indoors.

“It’s below zero during the daytime. When are we going to get an announcement about this temporary modular housing.”