The emergency overnight warming shelter at Port Moody’s Kyle Centre is operating at a record pace. And that’s costing the city money for security services.
Keir Macdonald, CEO of the Phoenix Society that operates the shelter, told the Tri-City News it’s already been open for more than 70 nights this winter when 60 is the norm for an average season.
In fact, he added, at one point it operated every night for a seven-week stretch.
“This is going to be one of the toughest, most life-threatening winters on record for the region in recent years — if not decades,” Macdonald said.
While the centre launched last Nov. 5 with initial capacity for 15 guests who could sleep on mats, get a warm meal and a bag lunch for the next day when the weather dips below freezing or there’s significant events like snow, rain or wind, Macdonald said there have been several nights where 20 guests were accepted.
He said this winter’s rough weather, which started with torrential rain shortly after the facility opened, then significant snowfalls in December and January and an extended cold snap, has made the emergency shelter a vital resource for the homeless population in the Tri-Cities.
It also highlights the need for a more long-term solution.
“What we have been seeing in terms of numbers accessing our programs clearly demonstrates an immediate and desperate need of permanent shelter and housing options,” Macdonald said.
But there have been growing pains.
Recently, Port Moody council approved spending more than $9,200 for security services around Kyle Centre when the shelter is operating.
The city’s acting general manager of community services, Ron Higo, told council’s finance committee on Tuesday the money pays for a security guard from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. when the shelter is operating, directing guests and ensuring the surrounding area stays safe.
Still, one councillor suggested that may not be enough.
Coun. Zoe Royer said security coverage might have to be extended to the morning hours as well because of concerns raised by the neighbouring PoMoArts, including guests encamping on its balconies and alcoves after they’ve been dispatched from the warming centre when it closes at 8 a.m.
Macdonald conceded the unexpected demand for the shelter has presented challenges.
“We have worked hard with local businesses, city staff and emergency services to ensure our clients were well supported and that we maintained public safety,” he said, adding an ongoing concern has been the lack of daytime resources when guests leave in the morning.
The warming shelter was approved by Port Moody council last October after Kyle Centre had been identified in 2020 as a possible venue.
An initial budget of $44,000 was set by the city to operate the facility, but Higo said that cost is being covered by a grant from BC Housing that was secured with the help of Phoenix and the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group.
Macdonald said the effort has borne some notable successes, including transitioning one guest into more supportive housing at the emergency response centre the society operates at a Coquitlam motel, and the referral of several others to detox and treatment services.
But, he added, the most important victory has been the provision of some sense of basic stability to the homeless who know they can access a warm, safe space when the weather gets rough.
“The guests we’ve served have touched our hearts,” Macdonald said.
The shelter program is scheduled to remain available until March 31, and then again next November and December.
Scheduling of regular arts and community programming at Kyle Centre has been adjusted through the winter months to accommodate it.