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Warm-weather break for White Rock shelter volunteers

Rev. Joan McMurtry at First United Church, where White Rock
Rev. Joan McMurtry at First United Church, where White Rock's extreme-weather shelter is located.
— image credit: File photo

With rain and warmer temperatures forecast through Sunday, volunteers who’ve been manning the floor at White Rock’s extreme-weather shelter are looking forward to a bit of break.

“Time to catch our breath,” Dick Avison said good-heartedly last week. “We’ve been having some nights with as many as eight people there.”

Avison has co-ordinated the local shelter – located at First United Church, 15385 Semiahmoo Ave. – for the past five years.

Its 15 beds opened this season on Nov. 10, and offered an escape from the cold for a total of five days that month.

And while the number of people accessing the beds per night hasn’t hit the high of 11 that the shelter saw last season, Avison said this season has been unique in the sense that it has included two 14-day open stretches – the most recent of which ended at 7 a.m. last Wednesday.

The earlier run ended on Dec. 26, with the numbers dwindling down to two or three people per night just before Christmas.

Avison said about half of the people who use the shelter during the cold spells – it typically opens if temperatures hit zero degrees or colder, but can be opened in the event of strong winds, snow or stretches of heavy rain – are familiar faces. Some others are seen for one or two nights and then never again.

“There’s no way to know why,” he said. “People come and go.”

The trend has been similar at other shelters, Avison said, noting representatives meet monthly, and information is shared on a weekly basis.

“It’s been both a long season, with regular usage, all season long,” he said. “That’s what people are saying, throughout Surrey particularly. The stretches have been long everywhere. There’s minor variations as to who opens when.”

Earlier this month, the co-ordinator of the Metro Vancouver Extreme Weather Response Program assured there is plenty of room in such shelters for those who need it.

No one has been turned away, James Pratt said.

Metro Vancouver has a total of 1,600 shelter beds – 1,295 year-round ones plus 304 seasonal ones that run all winter and then up to 650 extra spaces that can be opened as extreme-weather beds.

A directory of local shelters with contact information can be found online at www.gvss.ca

- with files from Jeff Nagel

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