A Maple Ridge shelter will not be adding extra beds as winter approaches because of a loss of federal funding.
The Caring Place has been informing clients of this for the past month, urging those sleeping outside to find shelter before the weather turns cooler.
The loss of $140,000 in funding from Service Canada means the Salvation Army-run shelter won’t have the means to add 15 cold-wet weather mats to its existing 25 year-round beds.
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.
“We knew this was going to happen,” said Caring Place director Darrell Pilgrim.
“We have been letting our clients know for over a month now and they have been working hard with our advocates to find other options. That’s the best we can do, unfortunately.”
The cold weather mats are put in place from November through March and the extra funding allowed the Caring Place to add a staff person to care for the additional clients.
“I would hope that the community can understand that if we don’t have the right staffing numbers in place, we can’t ensure the safety of everyone,” said Pilgrim.
He doesn’t want to turn people away, and fears that difficulty finding affordable housing in Maple Ridge may force some shelter clients to sleep outside in winter.
That’s a big concern for me,” Pilgrim said, “turning people away.”
The changes to federal funding are prompted by a shift in priorities under the government’s Housing First program.
Under the new Housing First approach, 65 per cent of money for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy must go to physical living spaces for people.
Once housed, other services, such as counselling, are provided.
It means money needed to operate an emergency shelter does not qualify.
The change in priorities has also affected the Iron Horse Youth Safe House. If the five-bed emergency shelter for youth does not qualify for new funding, it may have to close next year.
Pilgrim understands why the government has changed its approach to a Housing First model and is supportive of it, but points out there are gaps.
The Caring Place has received $14,000 this year from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to hire another advocate in November and December to help people find homes.
The shelter may also qualify for emergency weather funding from B.C. Housing, which would allow the Caring Place to open extra beds when temperatures dip below zero or if weather is particularly nasty.
Pilgrim, who is also chair of Maple Ridge’s housing action table, said the group has been working with the city to encourage more affordable housing projects.
“It’s kind of cart before the horse. We are trying to get there, but there will be some growing pains,” he added.
He has even floated the idea of a “Dignity Village,” a project similar to a city-sanctioned homeless campground in Portland, Oregon.
“There is a group of chronically homeless people out there and we do not have a solution for them,” said Pilgrim.
“I am a believer in Housing First, but the unfortunate thing is there just isn’t enough housing stock.”
Randy Kamp, the Conservative MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, acknowledges there will be hurdles as the program transitions, but points out that studies have shown the Housing First strategy is successful.
“The focus is to find a longer term solution to homelessness,” said Kamp.
He noted the federal government has built in some transition funding and the Caring Place is welcome to apply for that.
“Thirty-five per cent of the funding is going to go to things like shelters, so they are welcome to apply,” Kamp added.
“There may be challenges and they may need to look for other revenue streams in order to provide that service.”
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin worries about the disappearance of the cold weather beds.
“It is really frustrating because the City of Maple Ridge can’t do it on our own. We need the province and feds to step up.”
Coun. Michael Morden, who will be challenging Daykin for the mayor’s seat in November’s election, feels there needs to be stronger advocacy from the city.
Morden believes the solution does not lie in more studies, but following through with proven methods.
“What is needed is to use a universal measurement assessment tool developed by world renowned criminologists Paul and Patricia Brantingham,” said Morden.
The tool developed by Brantingham uses the concept of designing out crime, or changing environments to reduce or eliminate crime. He said the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies will be including Maple Ridge in work that’s already underway.
“This work will be performed at no cost to the taxpayer and provide a road map to take our community forward using proven methods that will garner results,” said Morden.
“I note that this problem isn’t going to be solved overnight. Vancouver committed to solve this problem years ago with $280 million annual funding going into the Downtown Eastside. Progress has been made but the evidence is clear – this isn’t simple.”
For clients of the Caring Place, the loss of the cold weather beds is another blow to an already battered body.
“If it’s a cold winter, people will die,” said one man.
His friend said that this past summer homeless camps across the city were dismantled by bylaw officers.
“There is no where to go,” he added.
“What are these folks supposed to do? They don’t have a fixed address, they don’t have bank accounts. How are they supposed to rent a place?”
The number of people living on the streets in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows dropped for the first time this year after rising steadily since 2005.
Results of the 2014 Metro Vancouver count on March 12 were released Wednesday, showing 84 homeless in the area, down 38 per cent from 110 in 2011.
Of the 84 counted, 39 were living on the streets, 43 were found in emergency shelters or other facilities and two had no fixed address.