Jenny Vanderheide, co-ordinator of the Gateway Christian Reformed Church extreme weather shelter, says the 30-bed shelter has seen over 160 individuals utilize the service so far this winter season. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Homelessness

Abbotsford winter weather shelter prepares for cold snap this weekend

Gateway Church shelter operator expects a full house with temperatures forecast to dip to -8 C

An Abbotsford extreme weather shelter operator is expecting a busy few nights early next week, with the city forecast to see what will likely be the coldest nights of the season.

“I’m expecting to probably have a full house for that,” said Jenny Vanderheide, co-ordinator of the Gateway Christian Reformed Church’s extreme weather shelter.

So far this year, Vanderheide said the church has been shelter to more than 160 different individuals, with some spending multiple nights and some spending only one or two nights.

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“It really varies who we see and how often they come back, because sometimes they’ll be going to detox, so then they’re only with us one night,” Vanderheide said. “Other ones will be with us, they’ll come frequently, because they have no other place to go and some of them are in transition.”

With this year being the second for Gateway running an extreme weather shelter in Abbotsford, Vanderheide said some of the clients this year are familiar faces from the year prior.

Extreme weather shelters are funded by B.C. Housing, which leaves decisions on when to open the shelters up to local groups.

In Abbotsford, freezing rain; consistent and heavier rain; and sub-zero temperatures are among the factors that determine whether the shelters open up for the night. So far this year, the site has opened its doors 41 nights to homeless individuals seeking shelter from extreme weather.

“This year was a slower start [than last year] because the beginning of November was way warmer. The shelters didn’t open until only three days in the end of November … Last winter season, we opened on the second of November,” Vanderheide said.

“The weather is different this year, and we had a lot more snow last winter season versus this year, it’s more rain.”

Vanderheide said, for the most part, the shelter’s open nights have not been full, often with attendance in the low-20s, while other nights have seen more than 30 people.

As for the anticipated cold snap this weekend, Vanderheide said if the count exceeds the 30 mats she has in the church’s gymnasium, she won’t be turning anyone away.

“Last year I had it once that my 30 beds were full and somebody else came to the door, so I didn’t have a mat for them to lie on, but I didn’t turn them away,” she said, noting that she was able to give the individual a sleeping bag to lie on the floor.

Vanderheide said she also has some money budgeted to buy a few toques, gloves and socks for individuals who may need them, along with the hot meals clients receive for dinner and breakfast the following day.

On top of the 30 beds run by Gateway, the Salvation Army has extra beds for extreme weather and the Cyrus Centre opens up youth beds during extreme weather.

Find more of our coverage on homelessness here.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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