With wind chill temperatures expected to reach -15 C to -25 C this week, the Salvation Army in Maple Ridge is already fully prepared to take in anybody seeking warmth.
An Emergency Weather Response, (EWR), alert has already been put in place by the province, and Mark Stewart, executive director of the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, says he is not concerned about the shelter’s capacity to help people.
There are between 20 and 30 spaces available for anyone wanting the spend the night, he said. But even if those spaces fill up, staff at the shelter won’t turn anybody away.
“We don’t discriminate at all when the cold weather hits,” said Stewart, adding anyone stepping into the shelter will be guaranteed a hot meal, whether that be dinner or breakfast in the morning.
But, he continued, there have been two other Emergency Weather Response alerts since December and he hasn’t seen a huge uptake of people walking through his doors.
“We are not expecting huge numbers to come in, but we will be ready if it does happen,” he said.
Environment Canada has already issued an arctic outflow warning for Metro Vancouver, including Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
“Rising surface pressures over the B.C. interior will continue to drive arctic air through mainland valleys and inlets this week. Beginning tonight, frigid temperatures and stronger outflow winds are expected,” read an alert on the website followed by a warning to minimize exposed skin with hats, scarves, mittens or gloves; and to ensure shelter is provided for pets and outdoor animals.
Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said the city’s community safety officers (CSO) will be playing a major role getting those in need to the Salvation Army.
Every day the CSOs intervene and try to get those in need off the streets and into systems that can support them, he explained of the four CSOs that patrol Maple Ridge.
He noted he is impressed with the approach the CSOs are taking under the leadership of Chad Cowles, manager of the community social safety initiative.
“It’s with compassion and understanding, but also encouragement to be able to facilitate different choices for them,” said Morden.
Cowles said CSOs ramp up their efforts to get people into care during EWR scenarios.
Once they receive an EWR, they go out proactively to make sure those living on the street are aware of a cold front coming and where the EWR shelter is.
“We have close relationships with most of the individuals on the street. At least we know them by name, we treat them respectfully and at these times we really do try and encourage them towards a safe shelter overnight,” said Cowles.
CSOs do focus on the downtown core, said Cowles, because that’s where most of the services are.
“But we also hike through ravines or parks or wooded areas where we know there to be homeless activity,” he added.
Ridge Meadows RCMP Const. Julie Klaussner said they are prepared to assist and help connect anyone in the community seeking additional help with support services.
Food For the Soul, another non-profit society in Maple Ridge, will be participating in the Coldest Night of the Year virtual event that is taking place on Feb. 20.