More than 100 homeless men and women in Abbotsford are sleeping in shelters this week as temperatures dip well below freezing throughout the Fraser Valley.
In addition to 30 emergency mats at existing cold-weather shelters operated by Cyrus Centre and the Salvation Army, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) opened its doors last week to provide a warm place to stay for another 20 people. The spaces are staffed and funded by BC Housing.
Still, Jesse Wegenast, of 5 and 2 Ministries, which is operating the MCC shelter space, says those 50 spots weren’t enough Sunday night, and space had to be found for more people.
“No one operating one of these is going to let someone freeze outside,” he said. “We just have to get creative.”
The emergency shelters have been open since Thursday and will stay open throughout the week, with temperatures expected to be as low as minus 10 overnight.
Wegenast predicts the number of people seeking shelter will only increase.
“We’re expecting to see more as time goes on.”
In addition to the approximately 50 people staying in the emergency shelters, another 40 are housed in the temporary winter shelter on Riverside Road, with around two dozen more at the Salvation Army’s long-term shelter, bringing the total to well over 100.
That figure is more than double the number of shelter spaces – both emergency and otherwise – the city had available just a couple years ago.
“It’s been great to see the additional 20 beds to come on stream,” said Cyrus Centre’s Les Talvio, who co-ordinates the city’s extreme weather response. “It’s been a real community effort working with MCC and 5 and 2, and the Salvation Army.”
Although the new space is helpful, operators of extreme-weather shelters have a significant need for a range of products. They include: socks and underwear; gloves; blankets or sleeping bags; sleeping mats; hand and foot warmers; gently used footwear; feminine hygiene products; first aid supplies; styrofoam or paper cups; coffee and creamer/sugar; and snacks and food.