The temporary shelter

The temporary shelter

28 now staying at new homeless shelter

Strategy is to fill facility slowly, encourage extended stays

Twenty-eight men and women stayed at the Riverside Road homeless shelter on Tuesday night, a big jump from the four who stayed when it opened on Dec. 21.

“We’re filling up quick, it’s great,” said Andrea Bernard, program coordinator at the shelter.

The four who came on the first night are staying, staff confirm. The shelter filled slowly at first, with the largest increase in residents coming Christmas Eve when 10 joined the facility.

Nate McCready of the Salvation Army, who is involved in the coordinated outreach team bringing people to the shelter, says the harsh winter weather that night caused many staying outside to want to move indoors.

The facility has 40 provincially funded beds, and is running on $450,000 in operating funds from BC Housing. Made of six construction trailers on a city-owned lot, the facility cost about $750,000 in city funds to construct. The shelter will stay open until the end of April and is expected to reopen again next winter.

Without bunk-bed frames available until mid-January, mattresses have spilled out of the planned sleeping area, but Bernard says they’ll continue to take in more residents, fitting mattresses wherever they can until the frames arrive.

Lookout, McCready, and voices from the city homelessness committee confirm that gradually introducing a small number of new residents each night is a deliberate strategy.

“We’re working on letting them settle in over time,” said Jodi Sturge, Lookout’s deputy executive director. “A lot of them haven’t been indoors in awhile.”

She says most of the residents are from the Abbotsford area.

The shelter is a key part of the city’s push to redevelop a positive relationship with the local homeless population after a contentious series of protests, intrusions, and the recent end to a bitter court battle.

A politicized homeless protest camp on city-owned land on Gladys Avenue remains standing, though McCready says the outreach team is starting to make headway in relocating those who live there. He says he’s met with a “spokesperson” for the tent city about the possibility of moving residents to Riverside, and their first discussion went well.

The News previously reported 10 residents at the Riverside shelter on its second night, though Sturge said only four were recorded in the official database. Sturge sas that “with a new operation, there might have been a discrepancy in how the stats were recorded.”