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Langley needs new site for Emergency Weather Response shelter

COVID distancing concerns have maxed out existing shelter spaces
Bad weather this year could catch Langley’s homeless without enough shelter space due to COVID-19 concerns. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley’s homeless are facing a winter without an Emergency Weather Response shelter, unless local advocates and agencies can find a new location soon.

According to Fraser Holland, director of homelessness services for Stepping Stone Community Services, there’s no room left for the extreme weather shelter at the Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope due to COVID-19 spacing restrictions.

Normally, more than 30 additional mats can be put down at the Gateway when cold temperatures, snow, or heavy rain makes sleeping outdoors potentially lethal.

This year, the existing relief shelter mats have already required more space for physical distancing requirements, Holland said.

That means no room for any additional sleepers when the weather turns bad.

The number of nights of extra shelter space needed can be significant, said Holland.

A bad year can mean 40 to 50 nights of Extreme Weather Response alerts, while even a mild year can mean 20 or so.

An EWR response is not just based on sub-zero temperatures. Heavy rain and temperatures just above freezing can kill people outside through exposure faster than dry weather and cooler temperatures, in many cases.

The staff at the Gateway of Hope, BC Housing, and local homelessness advocates are all alert for any space that could accommodate a temporary emergency shelter, said Holland.

“At this point, there’s nobody that’s come forward to say ‘We’re interested,’” he said.

READ MORE: More homeless are sleeping outdoors in Langley than ever

The EWR shelter program existed before the Gateway of Hope was built, with the shelters located in churches in the Langley City area.

The spaces need to be big enough to accommodate 30 or more homeless people – Holland noted that even in the last few years, the Gateway was running too close to capacity – and to be open for at least 12 hours overnight.

Most of the buildings that would fit the bill are currently closed down or unused due to COVID-19 restrictions, Holland noted.

It’s possible that multiple sites could be put to use, he said. The Tri-Cities area rotated the location of their EWR shelter monthly so no one neighbourhood would have to host it for long.

Anyone with a potential site can call Holland, and he will work with BC Housing if the site can be used, he said. Holland can be reached at 604-530-6477.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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