Last season’s overnight shelter plan for the Semiahmoo Peninsula has proved to be “unmanageable” for some members of the community, which is why shelter space for the homeless is re-locating, and will no longer be running nightly at Mount Olive Lutheran Church.
“For the past month or so, we’ve been reaching over capacity — almost double the capacity which meant more guests and more disruptions, more unmanageable behaviour,” said Susan Wieczorek, a volunteer at the shelter.
“Unfortunately, we were seeing an increase in property damage and vandalism (to) our property and the property next door by just a few of our guests. (The) majority of our guests are very grateful.
“If we’ve got 45 people every night in a space that can comfortably hold (25), that’s a problem,” Wieczorek said.
The new shelter, operated by Options Community Services, is located in Kwomais Lodge, located at 1367 128 St. from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Last night (Feb. 27) was the first night it was open.
It also has a capacity of 25 mats, states the Homelessness Services Association of BC (HSABC)’s website.
It will be open during extreme weather alerts until the end of the season because the space being used for shelter is not designated for people to sleep in, a rep. from the city of Surrey said. Only in emergency situations can the space be used for shelter space, under the Assistance to Shelter Act.
Brian Anderson, another volunteer, said the shelter at the church became a safety concern for staff, security and guests.
“We just didn’t have the space to handle that many people,” he said.
The daytime warming centre in White Rock also runs over-capacity most days, but in terms of aggressive behaviour and needing to ban individuals, the situation is easier to manage, said Upkar Tatlay.
“Working within this population takes a highly specialized skill-set and it’s not just the (operational duties). It also involves having that trust with community for a long trajectory. They have to know you for a long period of time. And what that does is it helps stomp out any kind of issues. Not (all), but a lot of them.”
Only one person is permanently banned from the warming centre for repeated aggressive behaviour. This is not to say that issues don’t arise, Tatlay adds, but the staff at the centre are able to diffuse difficult situations.
After doing drop-off and pick-up of guests to and from the shelter, Tatlay said the new space appears to be the same size as the church’s room was. This morning (Tuesday, Feb. 28), staff picked up more than 25 people from Kwomais Lodge, he said, and found several people waiting outside the warming centre once they arrived there.
“We hit capacity before we even opened,” Tatlay said.
Last night, guests of the warming centre either went to Kwomais Lodge, or to shelters in Cloverdale and Richmond, but one woman slept in her vehicle, turning her engine on-and-off repeatedly to not freeze, he added.
Wieczorek is hopeful that a permanent shelter will open soon in South Surrey or White Rock.
”We need a shelter — not just for the season — we need a permanent one, one that’s open year-round for people, where they can go and feel safe and have a sense of belonging and home,” she said.
“We’ve demonstrated that there is a need for this kind of service in this community.”