The temporary shelter facility on the Lougheed Highway in downtown Maple Ridge, formerly operated by RainCity Housing, is re-opening as additional spaces during extreme weather, a day after it snowed.
The 25 extra beds will be operated by the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, as an extension of its facilities across Lougheed Highway at the corner of the Haney Bypass.
The province announced Wednesday that it will temporarily expand the existing extreme weather response shelter, operated by the Salvation Army in Maple Ridge, by 25 beds as of tonight.
“This will ensure people living on the street have access to a safe, warm place to stay overnight during the winter,” said a release from Municipal Affairs and Housing.
The shelter will only be available when an extreme weather alert is issued and additional beds are needed.
Coun. Craig Speirs has been calling for the use of the building as either a shelter or emergency shelter, and lauded today’s announcement.
“It’s wonderful news – just think of the weather out there the past couple of days – imagine being on the street, being rained on and frozen,” he said.
And while people are in that situation, B.C. Housing is still paying the lease on the building until the end of March.
At the same time, the decision leaves council open to criticism, he said.
“We’ll catch nothing but hell about it on social media,” added Speirs. “Some people don’t want to bring addicted people out of the cold.”
He thinks some homeless people will not use a facility run by the Salvation Army because of “past interactions” involving clients using drugs.
However, he supported the choice of operator and said the Salvation Armu has changed its approach.
Coun. Tyler Shymkiw, however, said the decision by the province was made without consulting the community or council, and will frustrate businesses near the reopening space.
“The community is going to grow increasingly upset with the whole handling of this issue,” he said.
Shymkiw said the new NDP government has been indecisive in dealing with the issue of homelessness in Maple Ridge.
“It’s Dec. 20 and this is the first action they have taken on this issue. It’s breathtaking incompetence.”
He said the NDP has offered no solutions to the city.
“It’s frustrating for the whole community,” he added. “We are no closer to any permanent solution.”
Chris Bossley, an advocate for the people at Anita Place Tent City, said the cold weather shelter is a much needed addition, “just in time for Christmas.”
But she doesn’t expect “a mass exodus” from the homeless camp to the shelter right away, but said some individuals are likely to take advantage if they get cold on extreme weather nights.
Queried about how the camp residents have dealt with recent wintry weather, one of the men said “it builds character.”
They had some issues with the weight of snow collapsing tents and tarps, Bossley said, but were able to cope.
“They’re doing the best they can, and they have each other to lean on,” she added.
“They’re going to put up with anything. There may be the odd person who goes up there to spend the night, to get out of the cold.”
The Salvation Army will operate the additional spaces at the shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy., which formerly housed a 40-bed shelter run by RainCity Housing.
It closed in May, after several delays.
That shelter originally opened in fall of 2015 to clear the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue, which started that spring.
As the RainCity shelter was to close, Anita Place Tent City was erected at the south of 223rd Street, off the bypass.
The city sought a court injunction to clear the tent city, but has since backed off and is working with the operators of the camp, Alliance Against Displacement, to improve safety conditions there specifically with regards to in-tent heaters.
On Tuesday, Maple Ridge was hit with 10 centimetres of snow.
The extreme weather response program enables communities to temporarily increase emergency shelter capacity during extreme weather conditions, including when the temperature is approaching zero degrees.
Wind chill and precipitation are additional factors that may trigger an alert.
Communities determine when to issue an extreme weather alert, and how many spaces to make available on a given night.
The province also funds outreach teams that connect people experiencing homelessness with housing and support services.