Local advocates for the homeless are bidding farewell to a shelter program that served the Tri-Cities for the past five years.
The cold wet weather mat program, which was operated by the non-profit Hope for Freedom Society, provided seasonal shelter for the homeless from November through March.
In October, the program will be replaced by the Bridge Shelter Program, which will operate out of the Kingsway Campus of Northside Foursquare Church in Port Coquitlam.
The outgoing program rotated between three Coquitlam churches: Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship, Calvary Baptist and Coquitlam Alliance, as well as Riverside Community Church in Port Coquitlam, and St. Andrews United Church in Port Moody.
In its final year, volunteers and staff were busy with an increase in the number of homeless people taking advantage of the program.
In the 2011-12 season, the number of mats increased to 1,744, up from 1,547 during the previous season. The program also saw a dramatic increase in the number of women being served. Twenty-one women used the facilities, compared to 14 in the previous season.
According to the report, the noticeable difference in the number of women can be attributed to an increase in couples using the facilities.
The program, which also provides support for alcohol and drug recovery, transitioned 31 people into housing or recovery programs.
"Despite the bare bones of the program, it has been surprisingly effective in helping people who have been on the streets to find an alternative to their homelessness," said Sandy Burpee, chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group.
"The care and compassion by the volunteers makes a big difference for people who haven't experienced that in a while."
After five years of providing the homeless with a temporary place to stay, the program will change slightly before making way for a permanent shelter in Coquitlam that will operate 365 days of the year.
The new shelter will be located on 3030 Gordon Ave. and will open in the fall of 2014.
Rob Thiessen, executive director of the Hope for Freedom Society, is excited there will finally be a permanent homeless shelter in the Tri-Cities.
"They're able to offer a lot more to the homeless than a temporary shelter can. It's going to be an improvement," he said.
As for the upcoming season, a temporary overnight shelter will allow walk-in clients, provide storage for belongings and be open a month longer than the cold wet weather mat program.
According to Burpee, the temporary shelter already offers more to the homeless population by solving the main problems that couldn't be addressed with the mat program.
"The clients who come to the shelter haven't been able to bring much in the way of personal belongings," he said.
The temporary shelter will open its doors on Oct. 1.
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