This winter, Delta’s lone extreme weather shelter matched last year’s record for consecutive nights open, and though the initiative is seen as a success, the project’s coordinator said she’s troubled by the increasing number of homeless people in the city.
During the unseasonable cold snap in February and March, which saw heavy snowfall and low temperature for weeks on end the shelter at Ladner United Church housed people for 39 consecutive nights, beginning on Feb. 7. On March 12, shelter operators deemed the weather to be good enough to close it down for the season.
In the preceding months, there were anywhere between one and five people taking advantage of the nine-bed shelter at the church on any given night, which supplies people with warm clothing and meals each night.
In total, the shelter was open for 88 nights and saw 174 visits, for an average occupancy rate just shy of 22 per cent. The majority of people who stayed at the shelter were men over the age of 19 (110), and the rest were women over 19 years of age (64). No one under 19 stayed at the shelter.
In an email, Gillian McLeod, corporate social planner with the City of Delta, thanked the volunteers and staff who helped house those in need.
“I know that [the extreme weather] site has provided much more than a mat on a cold night to the people who have stayed there,” McLeod wrote.
“Due to the array of spaces [in Delta, Surrey and White Rock] and the differences amongst organizations, we have been able to attempt in some small measure to appeal to a variety of different needs that people identify as having.”
Though the church was never at capacity, Jonquil Hallgate, co-chair of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force (Hallgate helps coordinate extreme weather shelters in Surrey, Delta and White Rock), said she has noticed the number of homeless Deltans tick slowly up year to year. One of the goals of the shelter is to put Delta’s homeless in touch with services that could potentially help them.
“People come in and they know you’ll be open tomorrow night, so they come back,” Hallgate said, calling this past season’s run a success.
“The staff and volunteers that are at the site are able to have conversations with people as they start to develop that relationship and get engaged in a variety of different options, whether it’s permanent shelter or to get on housing lists, or get medical care, or whatever they are in need of.”
However, the rise in the number of homeless in Delta gives her reason for worry given the high cost of living in the region. It has even affected Delta, which she said is generally seen a relatively well-to-do community. One instance she recalled was that of an 82-year-old woman who had never been homeless, but was forced to live on the street after her husband died and her pension was not enough to cover her bills.
“If you’re on income assistance, you’re only eligible for $375 a month, and that includes utilities,” she said. “You think about paying rent plus utilities, it’s not even possible to find a place.
“We’ve heard many stories over the last few years where service providers will take someone to look at a unit, and as soon as the landlord sees the person or knows that they are on income assistance, that’s the end of the conversation right there.”
Hallgate expects the number of people using Delta’s extreme weather shelter to increase next winter as word spreads around among those who may need it.
“Now what we’re seeing is people are starting to come out who might have been living in ravines or treed areas, because they are starting to recognize that Delta does have some services and there are people who care,” she said.