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White Rock Shelter gets more users

Rev. Joan McMurty says there is an increase in people using the extreme weather shelter in White Rock. - Contributed photo
Rev. Joan McMurty says there is an increase in people using the extreme weather shelter in White Rock.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The extreme-weather shelter at First United Church in White Rock is opening its doors to more than the usual number of people looking to escape the chill of a night on the street.

"It's been busy," Rev. Joan McMurtry said Tuesday, of the 15385 Semiahmoo Ave. facility. "We've had more numbers than we've had in the past… eight, nine, 10 each night.

"Some of these are new people that we haven't known before."

The 15-bed shelter – along with two in Surrey – opened for the 2011-2012 cold season in mid-November.

Along with higher-than-usual turnouts, it is into its longest stretch of being open since it was established in 2009, offering a warm bed to those who need it every night since Dec. 1.

Last month, it opened for nine nights.

Dick Avison, who co-ordinates the local shelter effort, including organizing volunteers to help out, confirmed the demand has been higher of late. As many as 11 of the shelter's beds have been full each night; up from two or three. Friday (Dec. 9), eight people hunkered down for the night; on Saturday, there were six.

"Eleven is the highest number we've had in all the years we've been open," Avison said.

Avison couldn't say for certain if the ups and downs in numbers could be fully attributed to temperature highs and lows. And he doesn't believe recent changes that enable Surrey's shelters to open earlier – once temperatures dip to 0 C, rather than the -2 C required previously – explain the increases.

"It's actually hard to determine what makes the attendance at the shelter rise and what makes it taper off," he said.

So far this month, temperatures have dipped below zero nearly a dozen times. Through Monday, the only day forecast to have a low of 0 C is Friday. After that, things are predicted to warm up a bit, to a low of 1 C on Saturday, 4 C on Sunday and 2 C on Monday.

Avison has been told the shelter will continue to open every night at least through Friday. Hours are 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

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