Emergency shelters operating over capacity, as wicked winter pushes many indoors

Advocates 'fatigued' from long months of cold weather

Jesse Wegenast

Jesse Wegenast

The most wicked winter in recent memory has taken its toll on those who work to shelter Abbotsford’s homeless population during the most bitterly cold and wet nights.

Since the first week of December, extreme weather protocols expanding the number of beds available in town have come into effect all but eight or nine nights, according to Jesse Wegenast.

“It’s never ending,” the 5 and 2 ministries pastor and homelessness advocate said. “There’s definitely fatigue starting to set in but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still work to be done and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people that need to come in from the cold.”

Wegenast has helped run an emergency shelter on those nights first in the warehouse of the MCC Thrift Shop and more recently in the gymnasium at Gateway Community Church on the Abbotsford-Mission Highway.

On extreme weather nights, the Cyrus Centre adds additional beds for youth and families and the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope on Gladys Avenue adds 20 beds to its usual 26, while 5 and 2 Ministries runs a 20-bed emergency shelter at Gateway.

But on most extreme weather nights this winter, the number of homeless people coming in from the cold in search of a warm bed has exceeded the planned bed-count, Wegenast said.

The number of people sleeping in the extreme weather beds has been at 150 per cent of capacity about half the nights and, on a few occasions, capacity has been exceeded by double, he said.

On Wednesday night, as the city was pelted with freezing rain, the Salvation Army sheltered 60 people – 14 more than its 46-bed capacity – while 30 slept at Gateway – 150 per cent of its capacity.

No one is ever turned away and more fitness mats are pulled out to accommodate them, Wegenast said.

The Lookout Shelter on Riverside Road does not add to its 40-bed capacity on extreme weather nights.

The Cyrus Centre runs a patrol van on extreme weather nights between 8 p.m. and midnight.

Volunteers drive around the city picking people up and bringing them to the various shelters.

They search known homeless camping spots and respond to tips from the public and police, executive director Les Talvio said.

While the coldest nights bring many homeless individuals who usually decline shelter services indoors, some continue to remain outdoors.

Talvio said those individuals have given a variety of reasons for refusing to stay in shelters but it often comes down to a sense of mistrust.

“Some of them, they don’t want a shelter they want a home and they’ll consider where they’re at as more home to them then going into a shelter,” he said.

These makeshift homes are often quite intricate and involve tarps, scrap wood and other materials, he said.

Wegenast said there are a variety of ways the average citizen can support efforts to take care of Abbotsford’s homeless population.

“All the agencies could use some support and encouragement,” he said. “If you run into someone you know who works at the Salvation Army, I can guarantee that they’re pulling extra shifts and that they’re working extra hard. Give them an ‘attaboy.'”

He also said local organizations – the Salvation Army, Cyrus and 5 and 2 – are always looking for donated goods, chief among them: instant soup soups, socks, sleeping bags and blankets.

Just Posted

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Death of man found on road in Abbotsford now deemed suspicious

Body found May 8 on North Parallel Road was initially labelled hit-and-run

A pair of rare peregrine falcons have returned to their nesting site at an Abbotsford quarry, resulting in increased concerns from opponents about their safety. (PHOTO: #savebcfalcons Instagram page)
Concerns escalate about rare peregrine falcons as blasting set for Abbotsford quarry

Opponents worried after birds return to nesting site at quarry on Quadling Road

Todd Richard sings “Green and Blue” as HHSES students get ready to belt out the chorus during the school’s Music Monday on May 3. He is currently in the running for a top 100 spot in the 2021 Toyota Searchlight competition. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Top 100 bound?: Harrison country artist Todd Richard vies for Toyota Searchlight prize

First round ends on May 20, votes can be submitted every day

The Abbotsford Law Courts (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford man sentenced second time for sexual offence involving child

Bradley Roan Smith, 60, was previously convicted in 2016 of sexual interference

The mighty Fraser during freshet on May 2, 2021 at Island 22 Regional Park. A new B.C. coalition representing 25 organizations, and 273,000 people, is calling on B.C. to reverse decades of wildlife and habitat declines. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Chilliwack Progress)
Coalition calls on B.C. to invest in wildlife stewardship and habitat protection

Representing 25 organizations, and 273,000 people, they seek to reverse decades of declines

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Lorna Seip touches up the mural on the wall at MRSS, working with students from the Rainbow Club. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Rainbow club puts message of inclusion at Maple Ridge School’s main entrance

Maple Ridge secondary grad says SOGI symbols are powerful

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read