It’s a place to get out of the cold and wet weather for a night, but it doesn’t appear there will be any options for the homeless to find temporary shelter in the Tri-Cities this winter.
The Hope for Freedom Society has 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.
And the society’s managing director Rob Thiessen is putting the blame for the situation squarely on civic politicians.
“I can’t believe they turned their backs on the most successful program in the country,” he told the Tri-Cities NOWon Tuesday.
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.
A permanent shelter for the three communities is expected to open in Coquitlam in the spring of 2015 on Gordon Avenue.
Thiessen said the society was looking at an alternative temporary location in Coquitlam, but suggested the city shut down those attempts last week.
He said there appeared to be some headway in PoCo, but then Northside Church officials decided to back out.
Adding to his frustration, the society had all the volunteers lined up and ready to go, but just no facility, or permission to use a facility.
Thiessen said he’s not sure what the winter is going to look like without a shelter in the Tri-Cities, but suggested there would be a ripple affect in other services like policing.
“This is very depressing,” he said, adding word about the situation has spread around the community with rallies being considered in response.
Thiessen argued the shelter has worked over the years in bringing down the number of homeless in the Tri-Cities to about 40 from 200, by getting them into recovery programs and in contact with the greater community.
“Our desire isn’t to shelter people and feed them,” he said.
“Our desire is to get them off the streets permanently.”
The shelter situation has also surprised other homeless and housing advocates in the community.
Tri-Cities Homelessness & Housing Task Group chair Sandy Burpee said it would be hard to imagine not having a shelter in the Tri-Cities, suggesting it would set the issue back six years, before weather shelters were offered.
“There certainly are people who are going to suffer this winter because of a lack of a shelter,” he said, adding he believes PoCo council closed the door too early on the Northside Church location.
“I think the community will be dismayed that there isn’t a shelter option open this winter.”
Besides the volunteers, Burpee argued the Bridge program helped the homeless make connections in the community.
However, it is his feeling the Northside Church location was the best fit for the program, adding a Coquitlam spot would have been a compromise.
But Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart insists he still wants to find a temporary shelter location somewhere in the Tri-Cities and is calling for his counterparts in Port Moody and Port Coquitlam to come to a solution.
“I’m not giving up, I want the shelter service we’ve had for the last few years to continue until the Coquitlam shelter is open,” he said, adding the city “stuck its neck out” to land the permanent shelter.
Stewart said the city reached out to Hope for Freedom Society to reinstate something like the Cold-Wet Weather Mat program from a few years back where churches across the Tri-Cities rotate shelters, but was told it was unfeasible.
He also suggested there is an “element of exhaustion” by some of the faith communities in the Tri-Cities regarding the issue.
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