The first night the new extreme weather shelter opened in Maple Ridge, nobody slept there.
Darrell Pilgrim of the Salvation Army said homeless people might not know yet that they have the option of going indoors at a second facility his organization is operating, across Lougheed Highway from its current downtown location and in the former RainCity building.
The province announced funding for 25 extra beds at that building, at 22239 Lougheed Highway, on Wednesday, a day before the winter solstice.
“We’ve still got to get the word out,” Pilgrim said.
Another reason the new shelter might have been empty was because Wednesday was cheque-issue day for those receiving social assistance, and on those days shelters are normally less full, he said.
Pilgrim said the homeless should take advantage of the facilities during the coldest, wettest nights.
“I hope they do. We don’t want to see them out in this weather. It’s not healthy for them.”
Maple Ridge saw 10 centimetres of snow fall on Tuesday.
The Salvation Army already has 60 permanent shelter beds, but only five extreme weather beds.
“We were turning people away on our worst nights,” he said. “B.C. Housing asked us to fill a gap.”
A moisture barrier has been placed on the concrete at the new shelter, and mats on the floor. People are allowed to come in at 9 p.m., and must leave the next morning by 7 a.m.
The facility will only be opened when the temperature drops below zero, when there is significant accumulation of snow, or when there is heavy or persistent rain that makes it difficult for people living outdoors to get dry.
Pilgrim said he already spoke with some business owners neighbouring the shelter personally, and he said they understand the need.
He said the Salvation Army will work to be good neighbours.
Ahmed Yousef was part of a delegation to city hall that complained about impacts from Anita Place Tent City.
He didn’t begrudge the homeless population the use of the new facility, saying there should be “a warm dry space for our most vulnerable population to spend their nights in.”
But he wants to know what the closing date is for the new shelter?
“Such a question arises from the still rather bad taste in their mouths from the last time that particular location was operating,” he added.
Yousef said there is also concern that such amenities draw new homeless people to Maple Ridge.
“Another big concern is the draw factor, we already see a huge volume of new people coming to our community every day seeking refuge. So much so, that our local vulnerable population who have not chosen a life of crime are being marginalized and are frankly scared to go anywhere near tent city and such shelters,” he said.
“I have personally spoken with a few who say they are scared of crime against them, their belongings, and fear being exploited by these criminal elements. These are the truly vulnerable, the seniors and single mothers, and they are not being helped. We should focus on them first, provide services for them not only those who are addicted.
He is impatient for solutions.
“Our current provincial government has been in office now for over eight months, yet they continue to blame the previous government for the situation we find ourselves in,” added Yousef.
“I believe the people of Maple Ridge deserve better, they deserve to be consulted and heard when it comes to plans for our community.”