Hope for Freedom Society manager Mark Foreman is ready to help drive people to church shelters. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge churches asked to help the homeless

Plan underway to offer overnight shelter to street people

Rob Thiessen has seen it work, a plan that helps the homeless by getting them off the street, at least for a short time, by giving them a good meal and a good night’s sleep.

He put such a plan into place in the Tri-Cities between 2007 and 2015, when volunteers and church goers would pick up people at arranged points, offering rides to the churches to get people out of the winter weather, for the night.

Street people would be driven to one of four churches, where they would get some cooked meals and bed down for the night on mats.

Thiessen expects a similar plan to work again, and is drafting up a similar plan for consideration in Maple Ridge, although no decisions have been made. He said Housing Minister Selina Robinson supports the idea. She worked with Thiessen when she was a city councillor in Coquitlam and observed him roll out the first such plan.

“It worked very well and we moved hundreds of people off the street,” said Thiessen.

The community-wide effort involving local churches brought people together, he added.

Both the city council of Maple Ridge and the wider community is split on the issue of how to help the homeless living on streets and in Anita Place Tent City.

So far, a location for supportive housing complex has yet to be found, and no announcements are imminent about any low-cost housing in this city.

Thiessen said his plan to involve churches isn’t a replacement for a supportive housing complex or shelter for those without a place to live.

“It’s a stop gap. It’s not going to deny anybody,” a shelter, he said Thursday.

Thiessen’s currently trying to get five churches in Maple Ridge involved. The congregation could help by cooking and cleanup while overnight shelters would be staffed by trained shelter workers.

Under the plan he hopes to complete by year end, one or more vans would drive through the city in the early evening and offer people rides to the shelters set up in churches.

Once there, they’d get a late meal and a mat on the floor for a night of rest followed by breakfast in the morning, after which they go back outside.

“It certainly breaks down barriers,” he said. By having homeless people mixed with the general population both sides learn.

When the program began in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, there was a noticeable decline in camps and people living on the street, he added.

Thiessen runs the faith-based Hope for Freedom recovery home for men in Maple Ridge. One of the tenets is no drugs or alchohol on the premises.

The same principle would follow for his church-shelter program. People might use drugs or drink until the moment they’re picked up, but once on their way or in the shelter, the focus is on peace and quiet and giving people a break from the street scene.

Even by spending a few nights in such shelters, people may find a way out of their current lifestyles.

Thiessen described the shelters as a triage units, where people in greatest need are helped first or people are patched up enough so they can find better ways of living or get off the street.

“It’s a stepping stone,” he said, describing the church-shelter service.

“These are temporary, stop-gap measures,” he said.

Maple Ridge Coun. Craig Speirs likes the idea, although he says a supportive housing complex is still needed in Maple Ridge.

“We need all hands on deck,” to deal with the homelessness in Maple Ridge.

“We need to come together as a community, especially the faith community.”

He said he supported Thiessen’s plan “100 per cent.”

“It worked well in Coquitlam. It’s a good program. I think it worked extremely well.”

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A plan is underway to help give homeless people at least a temporary break from outside. (THE NEWS/files) A plan is underway to help give homeless people at least a temporary break from outside. (THE NEWS/files) A plan is underway to help give homeless people at least a temporary break from outside. (THE NEWS/files)

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