New cash keeps shelters open on cold nights

Provincial dollars for ‘extreme weather’ beds, but no amount given

The B.C. government is riding to the rescue with emergency dollars to keep some beds open during the coldest nights this winter at the Salvation Army’s Caring Place in Maple Ridge.

Until Wednesday, there was no money to pay for 15 extra sleeping spaces that were added at the shelter from November through March.

Service Canada used to provide $140,000 yearly to allow the Caring Place to offer the cold-weather beds. But changes to federal funding disqualified those from funding this year.

Instead, the provincial government is paying for “extreme weather” beds. The Salvation Army applied for funding for that program which allows shelters to provide sleeping space only during miserable winter nights when temperatures drop to 0 C or less.

Shelter manager Mike Emery hasn’t heard from the government yet about the money, but suspects it is for extreme-weather beds.

“It’s a far cry from not having anything, so we’re excited to do it,” Emery said.

Each community decides what weather conditions warrant an alert and how many spaces to activate on any night, said a release from B.C. government caucus communications.

The specific amount of money The Caring Place will receive wasn’t included.

“Wet weather conditions when combined with cold temperatures can be deadly to vulnerable people, so it is critical to provide a safe and warm place to stay,” said Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing.

Until September, the Service Canada funding allowed The Caring Place to add a staff person to care for the additional clients. That allowed The Caring Place to expand capacity from 25 to 40 beds.

But under the federal government’s new Housing First approach, 65 per cent of money for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy must go to physical living spaces for people.

It means money needed to operate an emergency shelter does not qualify and has also affected the Iron Horse Youth Safe House which may close next year.

The cold-wet weather program has been in place for more than 14 years and started before the Caring Place moved to its current location, on Lougheed Highway near the Haney Bypass.

“Maple Ridge is a caring community and it is important to provide the Salvation Army with the resources it needs to house people in extreme weather,” said Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton.

The B.C. government is giving $1.6 million this winter to make more than 1,100 temporary emergency shelter spaces serving more than 90 communities