The Mat Program is back and will give people a chance to come in out of the cold this winter.
Rob Thiessen, with the Hope For Freedom Society, which runs a residential treatment centre in Maple Ridge, said B.C. Housing is funding the program.
It will run Oct. 1 to March 31 in Maple Ridge, as well as the Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody. The program ran last year for the first time in Maple Ridge, from February to April.
The program also ran previously for an eight-year period in the Tri-Cities area.
In Maple Ridge, starting next month, a van will meet homeless people at pre-arranged locations at 9:30 p.m. each night and take them either to Maple Ridge Baptist Church, Burnett Fellowship Baptist Church, or Maple Ridge Alliance Church. Churches are helping out by providing the space and volunteers who will prepare the food.
Two other churches may also join the program.
Once homeless people get to a church, they’ll be welcomed by Hope for Freedom staff, given a hot meal and a warm place to sleep, followed by breakfast and a bagged lunch in the morning, before being driven back to where they were picked up.
“It worked very good last year,” said Thiessen.
During the few months the program ran last year, he said that nine people were moved off the streets. About 10 people showed up each night last spring, although that number was increasing towards the end of the program.
Thiessen said some people don’t do well staying in shelters and the Mat Program offers an alternative. Some people who are homeless are older, with obvious infirmities.
“They need a quiet place and that’s one thing we offer, a quiet, safe place,” Thiessen said.
He said that sometimes people push back about the religious connection, but homeless people never criticize that, he added.
“We’re going into the church, nobody’s preaching to them,” Thiessen said.
“I don’t really understand why people fear faith-based organizations doing this kind of work.”
Thiessen said the program currently could accommodate 20 people, but could expand from there. The ultimate goal of Hope for Freedom Society is to get addicted people clean and sober and get homeless people housed, he added.
“We would love to work ourselves out of a job.”
He added that Maple Ridge council unanimously supports the mat program.