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Cold weather emergency shelter beds rolled out in North Van

Indoor sleeping mats are available at North Shore Neighbourhood House and the Lookout shelter
A worker rolls out mats at the Lookout shelter on Second Street in North Vancouver in 2018.

With snow and below-freezing temperatures in the forecast for this week, the North Shore’s Lookout Housing and Health Society is rolling out extra sleeping mats for those living rough outside and inviting them to come in from the cold.

The Lookout society, which operates the North Shore’s primary emergency housing shelter at 705 West 2nd Street in North Vancouver, opened its extreme weather shelter program last month at North Shore Neighbourhood House at 225 2nd Street East.

So far, “We’ve been open 23 nights,” said Shayne Williams, CEO of the Lookout Housing and Health Society. “It’s been a cold November.”

During that period, the shelter has provided 192 emergency sleeping mats. The extreme weather shelter offers 16 sleeping mats at North Shore Neighbourhood House. So far, the busiest night saw 14 people bedded down at that location, said Williams. The shelter can also offer an additional 10 sleeping mats at the main shelter space on West 2nd Street if Neighbourhood House is full, he said.

Extreme weather beds open

The extreme weather program, staffed by the Lookout society and funded by BC Housing from mid-October to mid-April, is focused on getting people inside for the night in the coldest weather. The program also provides a hot meal and attempts to connect those who use it with further services, said Williams.

The people who need shelter might be camping in parks, beaches or in the bush on the outskirts of North Shore communities, said Williams, or they might be living out of their cars if they have one and they can’t find anywhere else to live.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as people not knowing the services are there,” he said.

In other cases, people avoid shelters because of pride. “It’s not a comfortable situation for people to be in when you’re homeless,” he said, which can happen very quickly through a stroke of bad luck.

Many shelter clients are dealing with some kind of trauma, he added. “If you go a couple of days without sleep or without eating, you’re not making very good choices.”

Outreach workers on the lookout

Outreach workers are out most evenings encouraging those they encounter outside to move in from the cold. First responders like police officers will also frequently bring people they find living rough outside to the shelter, said Williams.

While there’s not enough housing of any kind on the North Shore, Williams said the Lookout society does work to get people into both transitional and permanent housing where possible.

Williams said the society has received funds from the Dundarave Festival of Lights in the past, which has allowed them to help pay for some more permanent housing for some clients. The tradition will continue this December, he added.

Williams said he’s hopeful the recent funding of social housing projects by the province in many communities will start to make a difference to the crisis in homelessness. “It’s not going to fix the problem,” he said. “It’s going to be several years before that happens. But it took us several decades to get into the situation we’re currently in.”

The Lookout society is currently accepting donations of new clothing, bus tickets, gift cards, toiletries and backpacks that it gives to clients over the holiday season. Lightly used blankets and warm coats are also welcome, along with blank Christmas cards that the society hands out with stamps so that people staying at the shelter can reconnect with family.

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