Peace Portal Alliance Church, at the corner of King George Boulevard and 152 Street, is the extreme-weather shelter for South Surrey for the upcoming season. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Peace Portal Alliance Church, at the corner of King George Boulevard and 152 Street, is the extreme-weather shelter for South Surrey for the upcoming season. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Cold snap causes concern for South Surrey homeless population

Shelters are running at capacity, COVID-19 restrictions adding stress to system

As the mercury drops, concerns are being raised for the homeless population who might have no option but to sleep outside.

This week is to be one of the coldest of the season thus far, with overnight temperatures expected to drop to a low of -8C and continue to fall below freezing overnight until Saturday.

Options Community Services senior program manager Bruce Strom said space in emergency shelters is limited. In two of the last five days, Strom said, more than 50 clients showed up for service at the Peace Portal Alliance Church extreme-weather shelter. The facility only has space for 20 people.

“But we don’t turn everybody away without at least providing some services to them like food, let them use the washrooms, showers if it’s really necessary. Even without the cold snap, we’re already pretty much running at capacity, as are most of the other temporary shelters in the Surrey/Delta area,” Strom said Tuesday.

SEE ALSO: ‘It’s not a surprise’: Surrey’s extreme weather shelter coordinator ‘desperate’ for spaces

Strom said once the shelter reaches capacity, staff contact other locations in the city to see if there are any beds available. Options staff also provide bus tickets to people to help them get to a shelter that has space.

“Sometimes there are beds here and there, but of course during this cold snap, we’re likely to see that not be an option. Most of the beds are going to be taken up pretty quickly each evening.”

Another issue for people trying to find a warm, dry place to sleep is that shelters are running at reduced capacity. Physical distancing measures have also been put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That adds a whole bunch of extra challenges because it means less people being able to access services throughout the Fraser Valley,” Strom said.

Not only does the cold snap cause concern for the homeless population overnight, but the City of Surrey lacks places for people to keep warm during the day, Strom said.

“Our emergency shelters are set up through the night so then, come the morning, the doors close…. People are then out on the street in whatever minus degree weather it is,” Strom said.

“They used to be able to go to libraries and rec centres and places like that. Those options aren’t available for people now, so I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen through this cold snap.”

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