The first homeless shelter in south Vancouver in 17 years has opened to offer people soup, coffee, a mattress and a warm place to sleep on cold nights.
The shelter at Marpole Place Neighbourhood House, in the old firehall at 1305 West 70th Ave. at Hudson Street, was launched last month by the Place’s manager Tracey MacLeod Yerxa after two years of meetings by the Marpole Homelessness Subcommittee.
The shelter officially opened in February but has only needed to open for a total of six nights. It has so far served 10 people, said Marpole Place director Gudrun Langolf. She hopes the news will spread widely for the homeless in the area, some of whom suffer from mental illness.
Many homeless individuals sleep near the back of south Granville Street stores, while others sleep in cars, the Arbutus Corridor or at the Fraser River, unaware of the new service. Over the past few years, the homeless have been moving out from the East Side and downtown to other parts of the city, including Marpole.
When extreme weather is predicted, members of the Lookout Emergency Shelter activation team will decide to call an Extreme Weather Alert, and report by 11 a.m. if shelters will be opened that night. This occurs when the temperature is at or below zero degrees Celsius, two degrees above zero with wind chill, or during significant snow, freezing rain, or severe windstorm conditions.
The system can be confusing, said Judy Graves, coordinator of Vancouver city hall’s Tenant Assistance Program which serves the homeless. “It is difficult to penetrate the street population with the communication that an Extreme Weather shelter is open this night but not last night, and not sure about tomorrow,” she said. “People in the street often do not know they are open. “
Langolf said provincial law compels the police to send the homeless to shelters in extreme weather conditions to avert tragedies, such as the one of a homeless woman who died in December 2008 trying to keep warm by burning candles in a temporary shelter she’d built over a shopping cart in the downtown core.
Marpole Place is “a low threshold shelter,” that is, one with fewer rules than some. Here, pets are welcome, and carts or large bags can be locked in a secured area. A team of two trained workers from Lookout (one male, one female) assist the visitors.
The Place’s kitchen staff prepare soup, bread, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Up to 40 plastic mats with built-in pillows can be brought up from basement storage into the Pam Hall Room, placed a minimum three feet apart and separated by gender. Grey woolen blankets have been donated by the Red Cross, and the homeless guests can take these away with them. Doors are locked and lights put out by 10 p.m. Wake up time is 6 a.m., and guests must vacate by 7 a.m. The shelter can be reached by taking the No. 100 bus, and bus tickets are given by the Place to those who need it.
“We are very careful to respect our neighbours’ privacy and their quiet enjoyment of their homes,” Langolf added.
If people under age 19 come in without a guardian, the shelter by law must immediately call the Ministry of Child and Family Development, report that the child is homeless, then ask the ministry staff how to proceed.
The last homeless shelter in Marpole was located at the corner of Hudson and South West Marine Drive, which was in a correctional services half-way house and closed by Attorney General’s ministry in 1995.