British Columbia

Homeless shelters nearing capacity across Lower Mainland as temperatures drop

Across the Lower Mainland, homeless shelters are nearing capacity in the face of sudden snowfall and colder temperatures this week.

Emergency warming centres to open; extra temporary beds added this winter

Extra temporary beds have been added at shelters across the Lower Mainland to accommodate the increase in demand as temperatures drop. (Union Gospel Mission/Facebook)

Across the Lower Mainland, homeless shelters are nearing capacity in the face of sudden snowfall and colder temperatures this week.

Jeremy Hunka, spokesperson for Vancouver's Union Gospel Mission, said close to 100 people showed up seeking shelter on Monday night.

"Our shelter is right near capacity," Hunka said.  "It's a really dangerous time for a lot of people."

The organization has 72 permanent beds and added more to meet the spike in demand this week, he told CBC guest host of On The Coast Gloria Macarenko.

"We want to get as many people inside as possible," Hunka said. "This extreme weather can be deadly."

Extra beds, warming centres

Earlier this winter, the City of Vancouver partnered with B.C. Housing to nearly double the number of temporary shelter beds available when temperatures drop.

The city is also setting up three new temporary warming centres on Wednesday morning that will remain open until Dec. 27.

The emergency centres are a way to get people inside overnight during particularly cold snaps.

Throughout the coming week, they will be open at Britannia Community Centre, Carnegie Community Centre and West End Community Centre.

Hunka said there are fewer options for people wanting to get out of the cold during the day. Some shelters, like UGM, have drop-in hours when hot meals are provided.

"The grim reality is that a lot of people will be walking to keep themselves warm and will be trying to keep moving," he said. "They are really going to be at risk the next couple weeks."

'A long way to go'

Les Talvio, executive director of Abbotsford's Cyrus Centre, works with homeless youth. 

"The number of homeless youth keeps increasing each year," he said. "We are barely keeping up."

At the latest homeless count, volunteers counted more than 3,600 people in Metro Vancouver who don't have a place to live.

Talvio lived on the streets himself as a young person.

People can be quick to judge homeless people, he said, without knowing their stories.

"I spoke to a young lady yesterday who was talking about her family breakdown where she was being bullied at home," Talvio said. "She said to me, 'All I want is a mom to love me.'"

He hopes to see the community and province pull together to end homelessness.

"We have a long way to go," he said.

With files from On The Coast.