Shelters taking in everyone

Shelters in Maple Ridge are housing more than 100 people during the cold conditions.

The Salvation Army is taking in anyone who needs shelter during extreme weather conditions.

Street people are coming in from out of the cold and staying at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries shelter.

“We’re not turning anybody away during extreme weather,” said Darrell Pilgrim, executive-director at the ministry at 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway.

B.C. Housing gives extra money to shelters during winter so they can open more beds and hire more staff.

Maple Ridge, earlier this year, received money to provide a maximum of 15 mats.

Each community decides when to declare extreme weather alerts, which, in Maple Ridge, has been in place since the beginning of the month.

Pilgrim said during the usual milder West Coast winter weather, the shelter regularly turns away three or four people a night.

“That’s been going on for months. We’ve been regularly turning three or four people away.”

But during the current cold snap and extreme weather alert, space is found for everyone because B.C. Housing provides extra money to ensure there’s enough space and staff to handle the influx.

“They want to make sure no one’s left outside,” he said.

Pilgrim said that on Tuesday, 26 people were sleeping on the cold-weather mats at the Salvation Army.

That’s in addition to the 30 people who are staying at Sally Ann’s emergency shelter funded by B.C. Housing, at a cost of about $1 million a year.

Another 15 people are in transition beds, further along the process of finding their own homes.

In total, 71 people were at the Salvation Army shelter that night.

Add the 40 people staying at the temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy., and more than 100 people are in shelters in Maple Ridge, Pilgrim pointed out.

The high cost of housing remains a contributor to homelessness, Pilgrim said.

“People can’t afford to rent a place. When we’re trying to house people, we just can’t find anything that people can afford.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read was glad to hear that people aren’t being turned out into the cold.

But too many people are not being connected to services or long-term housing when they go into shelters, she added.

She also questioned Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton’s statement earlier this week that the proposed $15-million homeless shelter and supportive housing project, for which the MLAs are running the public consultation process, might not have as many as 60 beds, as initially planned.

That capacity was determined by B.C. Housing, she pointed out.

“I don’t know what he bases that on because it flies in the face of everything that B.C. Housing has told us, to date.”

Pilgrim said Maple Ridge is not the only city “that’s seen this rise.”

Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Langley, Coquitlam and Surrey are all building, or have built new shelters recently, he said.

“Every community is opening a shelter, other than Pitt Meadows.”

Pilgrim added that when the Salvation Army shelter opened in Maple Ridge 16 years ago, it was in response to the number of homeless who were already in the city.

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