As the closure of White Rock’s temporary daytime warming centre looms, officials are strategizing for the “next phase” of providing services for individuals who rely on the assistance.
Engaged Communities Canada Society executive director Upkar Singh Tatlay said there’s “always a challenge” when gaps occur in shelter services such as the emergency accommodations that only open when the weather is particularly inclement.
“You jar an already disjointed and displaced community,” Tatlay told attendees of the latest Peninsula Homeless to Housing meeting, held virtually March 4.
“They either have to find their own way, as they usually do, or they resort to what’s most comfortable for them.
“Now that we’re looking at the looming closure overall, we want to make sure that the next phase does include a stewardship of wellness.”
White Rock council in late January approved a temporary daytime warming centre, clearing the way for a modular structure to be set up in the parking lot of Centennial Arena (14600 North Bluff Rd.) through March 15, jointly funded by the City of Surrey.
Its opening came nearly a month after the closure of the emergency daytime warming centre that was established at Peninsula United Church during the Christmas cold snap.
Tatlay said last week that oftentimes, when individuals who use such shelters find their way back following a period of closure, the negative impact is undeniable.
“You see a lot of hardship that they’ve unmasked,” he said, citing an uptake in injuries and a decline in mental-health progress as examples of steps backward.
One guest who arrived last Friday (March 4) had clearly “experienced quite a bit of aggression and violence,” he continued. “And his face showed it.
“We’re contending with quite a bit… on Day 1.”
At the centre, open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at times when the overnight shelter at nearby Mount Olive Lutheran Church (2350 148 St.) is activated, guests can access food, as well as medical, mental and social benefits.
Noting mental-health services are on-site three times a week, Tatlay described “substantial instability in the community when it comes to mental health.”
Another trend that needs to be considered in planning for the future, he continued, is the “significant” increase in working poor – those who have jobs, but can’t afford accommodation and other necessities – who access shelter services.
“It’s certainly something that’s kind of a break from that stereotype… of what a homeless individual is,” Tatlay said.
Moving forward, the goal is ensure outreach, recovery programs and other services remain in reach.
Dillon McLellan, outreach program manager for Options, said programs in place include Surrey-specific outreach workers who are in the community from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. There’s also a hotline that both people on the street as well as service providers can call for assistance.
He said outreach workers recently connected with a couple who had arrived at the Mount Olive church after being discharged from a program on Vancouver Island. The church wasn’t open on that particular night, so the pair, along with a few others who had previously accessed the shelter, had hunkered down outside its walls instead.
The connection, McLellan noted, happened because a community member reached out.
McLellan said while the South Surrey/White Rock homeless population seems to have increased, in the past month or so, calls to Options for service and regarding concerns at the shelters have decreased significantly; factors he credited to things like funding that enabled security.
Noting incidents were addressed on a more reactive basis this year, he was optimistic the experience put operators in a better-position going into the next year of emergency-weather shelters.
Sources Community Resource Centre’s chief executive officer David Young pledged that his organization would do better this year. He said he felt “negligent, frankly, that I wasn’t on top of this.”
“We want to be a part of the solution on this,” Young said. “We need to plan now for the fall. We also need to plan now for the summer.”
White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker said he has invited Tatlay to an upcoming city meeting, so that the community can learn about the situation direct from someone who is on its frontlines.
“What they’re up against, our community is up against,” Walker said.
“We need to start to sell what we have here in terms of services. My sense is that we need to bring it home to everybody in our community.”
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