Despite recent cold temperatures and snowfall, North Delta does not have an emergency shelter to help the homeless.
In fact, there are no shelters of any kind in Delta, at least according to B.C. Housing’s website. The closest facilities are located at either end of King George Boulevard, in Whalley and Newton. An emergency shelter operating out of the Ladner United Church is not listed on the site at all.
According to B.C. Housing, determining the need for shelters is a community-driven process formed by an ongoing dialogue between the provincial agency, municipalities and communities. In an emailed statement, B.C. Housing added that emergency and permanent shelters are available in Surrey for those in need.
But Kay Dennison, coordinator of the Delta Seniors Planning Team, said that North Delta is in need of both a shelter and a transition house for women and children.
“What we’re seeing is more people living in their cars and, if they happen to have one, living in their campers,” she said. “In our community, when you go into our parks, whether it’s Ladner, whether it’s North Delta or Tsawwassen, you can see where people have lived.”
The most recent Metro Vancouver homeless count in 2014 found 15 homeless people in Delta: five unsheltered and 10 sheltered. With the exception of White Rock, where volunteers only counted four, Delta had the lowest number of homeless observed. The next count will be conducted in 2017.
Dennison, who lives in North Delta, said that people who live in vehicles may move around so as not to be spotted, which can throw off the official count.
She said unlike in other Lower Mainland municipalities, Delta’s homeless population doesn’t necessarily form a unified community. “They are individuals, and we’re seeing – at the advocate’s office, and certainly I’ve seen it – the numbers are growing,” she said. “If you’re an individual on your own, you rely on the goodness of the churches, on non-profit agencies.”
Dennison took part in the 2014 count and saw evidence of homelessness down a slope in North Delta, under the abutments of a bridge.
“We knew that someone had been there, but they disappear when we do the count,” she said. “A neighbour came out and they said, ’Yes we know they’re here and we leave them food.’ They’re not bothering anyone, there’s just nowhere to go.”
In addition to those living in their cars, Dennison said a number of people are close to homeless, or are couch-surfing.
“The numbers are only the ones we can absolutely identify, but there’s a lot of people we’re not even aware of.”
She said the number of seniors becoming homeless is on the rise across the board and is fast becoming a crisis.
Delta Police public affairs coordinator Sharlene Brooks confirmed there are no emergency homeless shelters in North Delta, saying the department’s protocol would be to bring homeless individuals in North Delta to the closest and most accessible shelter in Surrey.
“This is not to say we don’t have any homeless people in our communities,” she said. “There would be access to shelters in our sur- rounding jurisdictions.”
Dennison said there is no quick fix to establishing a shelter or transitional housing, but that there still needs to be more federal and provincial funding in place to help.
“We wait until we have a massive problem and then we seem to stomp out fires like crazy, and it doesn’t work.”