Metro Vancouver shelters welcome homeless during cold snaps
There are enough emergency shelters to house Metro Vancouver's homeless during the latest winter blast that hit the south coast of B.C. Wednesday, officials said.
A regional extreme weather response team has prepared extra mats in shelters to ensure anyone who wants a spot is not turned away, said coordinator Grant Gayman.
"We are confident that nobody has to spend the night outside."
As much as 30 centimetres of snow is forecast to fall by midnight Wednesday.
Gayman said it has taken a lot of coordination among response team staff across Metro Vancouver, but the planning means those without homes can stay warm if they want.
Some of the shelters are churches, but Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services will not be interrupted, Gayman said.
"If we know that somebody can't be open on Christmas Eve, for example, we'll have someone else in the neighbourhood open and they'll trade each other off, back each other up," he said.
First United Church in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has been open as a shelter at night since the cold snap first hit the province's south coast about two weeks ago.
Robert Skish, one of 200 homeless people who have been sleeping at the church since it opened as an emergency shelter, said he is relieved to be able to have a roof over his head at Christmas.
Dozens of people lined up at the church Wednesday to receive a warm meal.
"It's mostly by donations, and there isn't much," Skish said. "But somehow they make it work out, and we seem to feed enough people … That's a Christmas present in itself."
Rev. Ric Matthews said it is a sense of community that draws strangers to his church for shelter.
"People get a chance to connect with the painful side of Christmas — the grief, the loss, the sense of alienation — and therefore be realistic about what Christmas feels like to them," Matthews said.