There could be a reprieve after all for the homeless in the Tri-Cities looking to get out of the cold this winter.
This week, ministers from a handful of churches in the Tri-Cities met to discuss the options of bringing back some form of a shelter program this winter.
On Thursday, Coquitlam Alliance Church pastor Mark Francisco confirmed at least five churches have agreed to take part in a cold wet weather mat program.
He said the push came from the elders at his church who wanted to see a shelter program in the Tri-Cities.
Francisco said he recognizes that some homeless don't want to come out of the cold, but for those that do the church wants to help.
"That's our responsibility morally as Christians and as citizens of Canada to do what we can to help these guys," he told the Tri-Cities NOW.
Francisco said the five churches would rotate hosting the program for a month starting in
November, running right through to the end of March.
Last week, officials with the Hope for Freedom Society had pulled the plug on trying to find a temporary shelter for this season after attempts to find a new home for the Bridge
Shelter program failed.
Earlier this summer, the society was forced to consider other options for a shelter after Port Coquitlam city council voted down a temporary use permit to operate a shelter at the Grace Campus of Northside Church for two more seasons.
While some of the new program details still need to be worked out, including getting the necessary zoning permits in place at some of the churches that don't yet have them, the plan is to essentially copy the program that began in 2007. Francisco indicated Hope for Freedom would provide the staff, while the churches would offer the shelter and food. It would also be a drive-up program, which he said means money needs to be raised to pay for the buses.
Francisco also met with Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who offered his full support to the plan. The pastor is still waiting to hear from a couple of churches for confirmation of their involvement.
He said if a sixth church comes on board, the program could start in October.
Though not all churches participating were identified, one congregation that has signed up is St. Andrew's United in Port Moody. The church already has the proper zoning in place and was all set to go this winter before word came down the program had been cancelled.
Reverend Julie Lebrun said she and her congregation were surprised and disappointed a shelter wouldn't be offered this winter, but were eager to be involved in getting a new mat program going.
"We see that as part of our Christian expression is to help those in need and be a part of that in a caring and respectful way," she said, adding she was impressed with how the churches worked together to find a solution.
In 2012, St. Andrew's put out more than 980 mats and served over 2,900 meals, while coordinating over 900 volunteer shifts. But Rob Thiessen, the managing director of Hope for Freedom, said he still has more questions about the churches' proposal.
"I'm uncertain as to what the playing fields look like," he said, adding he wasn't part of the minister's discussion.
More specifically, Thiessen said the society has no funding for buses, noting they could cost $20,000 to $30,000.
Meanwhile, Coquitlam's mayor said he's more encouraged by the progress being made to get a shelter program going.
"There is so much of our community that found the possibility of abandonment of the shelter completely unacceptable," Stewart said.
He's said he's already spoken to council informally about getting the rezoning process started. Stewart said he also wouldn't oppose offering funding help for this winter, but he noted the money typically comes from senior levels of government.
He indicated the mat program would be a topic of discussion amongst the Tri-Cities mayors at a TransLink mayors meeting Thursday.
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