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New Westminster to appeal for funding for extreme weather shelter program

New Westminster wants the provincial government to let homeless individuals stay inside emergency shelters a little longer so they can stay warm and dry.
The number of homeless people in New Westminster has grown by 25 per cent since 2014, just shy of the regional average of 30 per cent.

New Westminster wants the provincial government to let homeless individuals stay inside emergency shelters a little longer so they can stay warm and dry.

On Monday, council supported a three-year renewal of a temporary use permit for the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which operates the city’s extreme weather response program. The program provides shelter for up to 30 individuals on nights when weather conditions such as near zero temperatures, prolonged rains or high winds pose the risk of death, injury and death to people on the street.

John Stark, the city’s senior social planner, said the shelter opens about 30 to 50 times a year, with more openings expected this year than in 2014.

“It’s really there to ensure that people don’t succumb to injury, death or illness,” he said of the program. 

The extreme weather response program shelter can be activated between Nov. 1 and March 31. It provides mats on which people can sleep and accommodates people from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr is concerned the program kicks people out onto the street at 7 a.m. because of the provincial funding limits. He said he’d like to see the provincial government increase funding to the program so people can stay inside until 10 a.m., which would give them a chance to wake up and warm up before heading outdoors.

“They are kicked out at 7 a.m. because there isn’t funding for the emergency shelters,” he said.

Stark said the Union Gospel Mission opens at 8 a.m., so the people who are leaving the shelter have about an hour outdoors before they can get into the mission for breakfast. He noted the Union Gospel Mission is closed on weekends, so that’s not someplace individuals can go on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Some flexibility there would be helpful,” he said of the shelter’s schedule.

Stark told council he could write a report on the issue for council’s consideration and try to make a case to B.C. Housing to extend the hours of the extreme weather shelter.

According to the provincial government, the province is funding about 560 extreme weather shelter spaces across Metro Vancouver this winter. Throughout B.C., the provincial government is providing $1.6 million to make nearly 1,200 extreme weather shelter spaces available in about 100 communities.

“The winter can be a difficult time for many people. Providing these extra shelter spaces is critical to addressing many of the challenges they face,” Rich Coleman, minster responsible for housing, said in a press release. “We will continue to work closely with the communities of Metro Vancouver to connect those in need with the support series that will set them up for more stable, permanent housing.”

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