It’s a gift to Chilliwack the week before Christmas.
The “extreme weather” shelter program in Chilliwack is shutting down, and instead “winter shelter” beds will be opening nightly at Ruth and Naomi’s Mission (RAN), Salvation Army, and Cyrus Centre.
“We’ve obtained permission to provide winter sheltering as of this week from BC Housing,” said Bill Raddatz, RAN executive director.
It’s the first time Chilliwack has obtained this type of winter shelter funding, which supplements the regular shelter spaces.
People hunkering down in “every cove” and hidey-hole in downtown Chilliwack may now come inside, he said, even if it’s five degrees and raining.
The difference is that guidelines for “extreme weather emergency shelter” dictated that they may only open beds when the temperature dips below zero degrees and a weather alert is issued.
But with “winter shelter” the beds will be open every night until March, regardless of how cold it is.
“So rather than only having sporadic openings, it will be every day,” said Raddatz.
There will be 12 winter shelter beds for youth under 24 at Cyrus Centre on Wellington Avenue, five at the Salvation Army on Yale Road, and 26 winter shelter spaces at RAN on Margaret Avenue, with options for 14 more cots.
“The current crisis is a result of several Chilliwack homeless camps being dismantled and removed, at the worst time of the year weather-wise, without any solutions or options being put in their place.
“It’s created what I call a whack-a-mole situation, because they close a camp down somewhere, only to have everyone show up somewhere else,” said Raddatz.
But somehow, despite the huge effort to help the neediest of Chilliwack, donations are way down, at RAN, as well as Cyrus Centre and Sally Ann.
So any help by financial donors will be appreciated, he said.
“For all of us, Christmas is usually the biggest time of giving. So when our donations are down, we know we’ll be in for a tough year ahead.”
He drove around town recently, checking out where the homeless folks were at.
“They are in every cove of the downtown, and business people are complaining about it,” Raddatz said. “So I was thinking about how we could rectify the situation, or become part of the solution. Then we had the discussion about winter sheltering.”
All three local agencies were on the same page about it, and took the idea to BC Housing officials.
They looked at all the options.
“They are aware of the Chilliwack situation,” said Raddatz. “They know the need is great.”