Fraser Valley windchill set to hit -20 C amid call for more shelters

Shelters across the Fraser Valley are operating at capacity—and beyond. Outreach workers and volunteers are struggling to keep up with the demand for housing.

By Joti Grewal | December 1, 2022 |5:00 am

The need for shelter spaces is growing.

When the temperature dips, overnight shelters across the Fraser Valley open their doors. But before this week’s wintery conditions hit, Ruth and Naomi’s Mission in Chilliwack was already at capacity. Other shelter operators are also struggling to help the valley’s increasing number of people without homes.

“In the extreme weather, when it goes to zero and below, we’ve gone up to 55 (people),” said Ruth and Naomi’s shelter manager Leny Kloot.

“October 15 hit and we were full overnight. And that’s the first time that’s ever happened. So we were basically at capacity right then—and capacity I mean, really honestly we’re very full. But there’s nowhere else for anybody to go.”

And the winter is only getting colder. The windchill is expected to hit -20 C overnight in parts of the Fraser Valley, posing a danger to anyone outside.

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A shortage of space

Kloot manages two shelters. The ReVive shelter in downtown Chilliwack offers 45 beds and the Pathways overnight emergency shelter nearby can accommodate up to 55 people. The Cheam View United Church in downtown has also opened its doors to provide lodging for 25, “which has been super amazing,” Kloot said.

Ruth and Naomi’s also offers warm showers and laundry facilities. Every day it serves roughly 400 meals.

Even Kloot isn’t exactly sure how it has all come together.

“I don’t think there is any planning,” she said. “It happened overnight. We just had to accommodate it, right? We just had to make it happen.”

The task comes with immense pressure.

“We’re just trying to keep up with the demands of the new people that are becoming homeless,” said Kloot.

This year, Kloot has seen many seniors seeking shelter resources.

“Times are tough right now with inflation, with the rents rising,” she said. “Alarmingly, the thing that we’ve noticed the most is the amount of seniors. We used to have two to three and now we’re sitting at 15 to 20.”

BC Housing estimates there are 420 permanent, temporary, and extreme weather response shelter spaces in the Fraser Valley. The provincial agency said more spaces could be made available but there are obstacles to making those happen.

“We have funding available to open additional shelters, however there are challenges in some communities with identifying suitable sites and securing shelter providers to support the vulnerable population,” the provincial agency told The Current in an email.

When Pacific Community Resources Society looked to open a daytime shelter in Chilliwack earlier this year, they found a lack of building owners willing to rent for that purpose. Chilliwack council took the rare step of deciding to not enforce bylaws to enable the opening of three downtown shelters.

Creative solutions sought

In Langley, founder of local outreach group Kimz Angels wonders why local governments there can’t be more creative when considering solutions to house people.

“They keep saying we have resources, we have places, but there’s not enough places for everybody,” said Kim Snow.

Snow expressed her frustration with local governments on social media after this week’s snowstorm. She shared photos of what appeared to be people sheltering from the elements under truck trailers.

When The Current contacted her, Snow was sitting down with community police, a Langley City councillor, and volunteers to discuss solutions. The group had just completed lunch service at Langley Vineyard church.

“I think they need to prepare way before the snowstorm starts coming,” Snow said.

“We’ve had people die on the streets from the extreme weather. We can’t just leave it to the last minute. So that’s where my frustration is. I’m just tired of this.”

There is only one shelter funded by BC Housing in Langley: Gateway of Hope. It offers roughly 30 beds.

But Snow estimates there are hundreds of people living on the streets.

“When they’re full, then the RCMP has to take them to Cloverdale or other places,” she said. “Why are we passing on the buck when we should have warm places here. They’re human beings not animals and that’s how they’re treated.”

How to help

Most shelter operators accept donations to help their clients. But they are increasingly hard to come by.

This year’s winter is proving to be one of the most challenging ever when it comes to helping those without housing stay safe, according to Jesse Wegenast, who co-ordinates the extreme weather response in Abbotsford.

By the end of November, Wegenast said Abbotsford’s shelters had already welcomed nearly 200 different people. In previous busy years, 300 people have accessed extreme weather help through the entire winter. With December only starting today, this winter looks set to easily surpass this figure.

“That is really, really high particularly for this part of the season.”

Wegenast said the number of people without housing has skyrocketed in the last couple years. And an increasing number of those people own their own vehicles and have jobs, he said. They just don’t have the money needed for a home.

“All of this points to the need for housing that people can afford to rent,” he said. “We are seeing people accessing our extreme weather shelters and our permanent shelters who have never been in shelters before.”

Wegenast co-ordinates the extreme weather response for Mennonite Central Committee, which has the city’s contract for the services.

They, like most others in the valley, accept donations for clothing to keep people warm. But while organizations are helping more people than ever, Wegenast said they’re receiving fewer donations.

“Donations are not what they used to be. We are seeing less stuff come in and the demand is much much higher than it has been at any point in the past.”

Where and how to donate

Shelter operators everywhere welcome winter clothing like gloves, toques, socks, jackets and boots. In Abbotsford, donations can be dropped off at Central Height Church 1661 McCallum Rd. In Chilliwack, items can be dropped off at Ruth and Naomi’s family centre (46129 Princess Ave.—the large building behind the shelter.)

Volunteers are also welcomed, Kloot said.

Those looking to donate in Langley can drop off items with Snow and her team at Langley Vineyard (5708 Glover Rd.) on Tuesdays between noon and 3pm or on Wednesday from 9am to noon. Arrangements can be made by phone (604-838-6579) outside of those times as well.

Kimz Angels is doubling its efforts this year. The group is organizing two fill-the-ambulance campaigns. The first weekend collection will take place on Dec. 10 and 11 in Walnut Grove (9347 200A St.) and the second will take place at the Murrayville IGA (22259 48 Ave.) on Dec. 17 and 18.

In Mission, an extreme weather response shelter is open in the downtown core. Haven in the Hollow offers 10 beds.

Meanwhile, in Agassiz council there were still contemplating the need for a warming shelter. Earlier this week, Mayor Sylvia Pranger asked staff to examine the local need for such services in the community. Residents aware of facilities in the community are asked to contact the district.

— with files from Tyler Olsen


We also put together a map of Fraser Valley shelters that can be shared. You can find it here. You can also find a print-friendly resource list to share and hand out here. Shelter lists are available through BC Housing and BC 211.

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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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