An extreme weather shelter is needed to provide space for people who are homeless when the temperature plunges in Abbotsford. (Photo: Submitted)

Abbotsford short of homeless beds, organizers seek facility for winter emergency shelter

Homeless shelters are turning away 20-plus people a night

With temperatures starting to dip and winter on its way, the co-ordinator of Abbotsford’s cold-weather shelter has yet to find a place to house people when the temperature plunges.

Abbotsford’s homeless shelters currently turn away more than 20 people on an average night. And while funding – and a staff – exists for the creation of a temporary extreme weather shelter, a physical site has yet to be found.

Jesse Wegenast, who co-ordinates the program for Archway Community Services, says all that is needed is a facility that is unoccupied overnight and has about 3,000 square feet of floor space and a couple bathrooms.

In past years, such a shelter has been opened between 60 and 70 nights over the course of five months – usually when the temperature drops below zero.

A gym or a hall will suffice, and Wegenast said that staff will do all the setting up and tearing down each night. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things trickier and required a new space to ensure adequate distancing.

The ongoing pandemic has required Abbotsford’s year-round shelters to lower their capacity levels. But the addition of a new site at Bakerview Mennonite Brethren Church has increased the total bed count in Abbotsford to around 120.

Central Heights Church has also provided room for a shelter for people older than 50. But although that’s more beds than at the start of the year, the need for an emergency shelter remains for those nights when the cold poses a risk to people’s lives.

“Right now we’re turning away somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 people a night just at the current time,” Wegenast said of the city’s shelter system, which is spread over multiple locations around town.

Shelter operators are strict about requiring people to abide by COVID-19 rules, and changes have been made to how food is served and other arrangements.

“We’ve really learned over the past seven or eight months how to operate safely,” he said. “We’ve tripled our cleaning budget for this year.”

Anyone with a space can contact Wegenast at 604-798-7332 or jesse.wegenast@archway.ca

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