THE NEWS/files Rob Thiessen, with Hope For Freedom Society, the former ran mat program.

Mat Program not on this winter in Maple Ridge

May not be the need with modular housing up

A mat program that once offered street people a warm place for the night in local churches – along with some good meals – won’t be running this year in Maple Ridge.

Hope For Freedom Society, which operated the program for the two previous winters, said there wasn’t enough information provided soon enough from BC Housing in order for the society to prepare a budget to operate this winter.

“We needed information and the contract from BC Housing earlier, in order for us to start operating in Maple Ridge, and it came too late,” said society executive director Dennis Fagan.

“It presented all kinds of logistical and operational difficulties for us, so we had to choose one municipality, and we picked Tri-Cities,” where a mat program has been operating in past.

The mat program involved a Hope For Freedom Society van meeting homeless people at locations in the downtown and driving them to local churches where volunteers offered home-cooked meals and mats on the floor for the night.

“We had planned as much as we possibly could, without (having) all the information,” said Fagan, who added it was disappointing to many.

Hope for Freedom still operates a residential treatment centre in Maple Ridge.

On the positive side, he said, there may not have been as many people needing the service as last year – with Anita Place Tent City closed and the 51-unit Garibaldi Ridge supportive housing open.

The complex on Burnett Street was built to accommodate tent city residents.

Both Hope for Freedom and BC Housing questioned if anyone would need the mat program any more in Maple Ridge, Fagan added.

Last year, the program, which ran from October to March, took 22 people off the street, said Rob Thiessen, who recently retired from Hope for Freedom Society.

BC Housing last year funded the program at a cost of $186,000, said spokesperson Laura Mathews.

There is also a 60-bed permanent shelter at Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, she said. And the Army will also operate an extreme weather response shelter during the winter, at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. – in the former mattress shop that served as a time as the temporary homeless shelter.

That building served the same purpose last year, providing space for people to shelter over night.

The extreme weather shelter generally opens at night when the temperature nears 0 C or during heavy rain or snow.

Mathews noted there are now 104 units in modular housing operating on Royal Crescent and Burnett Street.

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