It’s been a tough winter for people crammed into Maple Ridge’s two homeless shelters.
At the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, people are sleeping on mats in the cafeteria, as part of the Extreme Weather Response program.
Close to 30 centimeters of snow fell in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows over the weekend, followed by freezing rain.
“We’re basically at the maximum, about 15 extra people every night,” said Darrell Pilgrim, executive-director for the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
B.C. Housing provides the extra funding to staff the Salvation Army so it can offer the extra mats, over and above the 30 people already staying at the emergency shelter and another 15 who are in the transitional shelter.
Extreme weather responses have been in place for about 50 days in the last few months.
People at the converted mattress store now known as the temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. are waiting for spring, and for word about where they’ll be living after March 31.
The 40-bed shelter is supposed to close then, but there’s been no word yet on what will replace it, although an announcement is expected next week.
“This has been the longest, extended cold period for some time,” said Sean Spear, with RainCity Housing, which operates the shelter.
The cold weather keeps people inside more, which also adds to the stress of living in close quarters. On the other hand, when temperatures drop it’s important there’s a place for people to go.
“The need for the shelter is definitely clear in this weather.
“It’s a tight space,” Spear said. But, “The idea of being outside is not as a great.”
Although the shelter is supposed to close, RainCity hasn’t yet started to wind down its operations and limit any new registrations. The main focus now is helping people get through the cold spell.
“We wouldn’t start that in an extreme weather alert.”
While staff try to help people and find them places to stay or fit them in whenever they can, or refer them to the Salvation Army, people are still being turned away from the temporary homeless shelter. Last December, 48 people were turned away.
“There are still people that out there,” sleeping on the street, Spear said.
The shelter opened in October 2015 to provide a place for people who were living in the tent city on Cliff Avenue.
Residents now are wondering what happens after March 31.
“They’re just kind of staying there, day to day.”
Maple Ridge’s extreme weather response plan kicks into action any time the night time temperature drops to -2 C.
But that can be activated at 0 C if there’s lots of snow or rain, Pilgrim said.
He expects the extreme weather response to remain in place for the rest of the week.
“If the weather doesn’t go above 0 C, we’ll be keeping it in place.”
Under the extreme weather response, people have to stay outside until 8 p.m. before they can get to their mats because there’s nowhere else for those without homes to go during the daytime. That means for the homeless, spending time in local malls, if they can avoid getting kicked out, or going to the library.
In the morning, people have to be out of the Salvation Army by 8 a.m., although if weather’s particularly bad, people can stay inside.
And if they are required to leave for the day, they can come back for the lunch-hour community meals that are offered three days a week.
“We’re just rolling along,” said Pilgrim.
He added however that the shelter’s supply of gloves is running out so donations of new gloves would be welcome.