Kees Koster

Record number of homeless using White Rock shelter

The extreme weather shelter, located at First United Church, is servicing a record number of homeless.

The homeless call him Uncle Kees. He has been opening the doors to the First United Church extreme-weather shelter every year for the past six.

Kees Koster’s nightly routine consists of preparing the beds, warming the food and providing company to society’s most vulnerable people.

Five homeless people – joined by fellow volunteer Sandra Horbachewsky – were standing at the White Rock church’s back doors Wednesday evening, waiting for Koster to let them in.

When the clock stuck 9:30 p.m., Koster, as he does every cold evening, opened the doors.

The four men and one woman streamed in and neatly hung their coats, before helping Koster arrange the sleeping mats.

“They know the drill,” Koster said, noting said there are a handful of regulars every year. He said they’re like extended family.

“The oldtimers, they started calling me Uncle Kees three or four years ago, that’s kind of a badge of honour.”

This year, however, that extended family has expanded. There are more people using the shelter this year than ever before.

Koster said that in past years, it has been normal to see about three to five people use the shelter. He’s seen an average of 11 since the beginning of this month.

“Everyone knew everybody and it was great. This is altogether different,” Koster said.

Tuesday night, when the temperature dropped to -4 C, the shelter was used by 16 people. The capacity is approximately 15.

“I don’t know whether it’s because it’s colder or whether it has anything to do with the downturn of the economy in the western provinces because of the oil causing people to come this way. I don’t know where all the folks come from.”

Lori Dennis, deputy executive director of Options BC, says the significant jump in numbers is alarming. She’s been working in homeless services in the Lower Mainland for the past 20 years.

“This is the coldest I can recall and I’m exceedingly worried about our neighbours and friends on the street,” Dennis told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the CBC reported that a 53-year-old woman froze to death on the streets in Winnipeg.

“I got my start working for homelessness in Ottawa and to have somebody perish on the street overnight is a horrible thing and I don’t want to encounter that,” Dennis said.

The extreme-weather shelter opens on a judgment call from Options. The temperature, high winds and precipitation are all factors. Volunteers work at the shelter until 11 p.m. before being relieved by Options BC staff. The staff stay with the homeless overnight until a second round of volunteers turns up in the morning.

This is Horbachewsky’s first year volunteering for the shelter. She’s been working seven of the past eight days.

“It’s not really hard work and they’re very appreciative. ‘Please, thank you, could I get this please?’ I guess they feel lucky they have some place to go to get out of the cold,” Horbachewsky said.

Dennis said Options BC needs more volunteers, and prospective volunteers are welcome to call 604-584-5811.

“We worry about volunteer burnout. Because we’ve been activated here for two weeks and there’s no break in the foreseeable future, I’m really worried about burning out volunteers.”

First United Church is located at 15385 Semiahmoo Ave.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Former Cloverdale church elder pleads guilty to sexual assault

Brian Batke, 73, entered guilty plea Feb. 14

Trial for White Rock fentanyl charge rescheduled for August

Navjot Cheema charged following May 2018 cocaine, fentanyl seizure

Free pads, tampons now available in Surrey school washrooms

Menstrual products previously given out to students upon request

Surrey student selected as Loran Award recipient

Award is valued at $100K over four years of undergraduate studies

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

Galchenyuk nets shootout winner as Wild edge Canucks 4-3

Vancouver tied with Calgary for second spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

B.C.’s soda drink tax will help kids lose weight, improve health, says doctor

Dr. Tom Warshawski says studies show sugary drinks contribute to obesity

A&W employees in Ladysmith get all-inclusive vacation for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all-expenses-paid vacations

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett says they can be in Smithers Thursday

UPDATE: TransLink gets injunction ahead of pipeline, Indigenous rights protest

The protest rally is in opposition to the Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain pipeline projects

Province shows no interest in proposed highway between Alberta and B.C.

Province says it will instead focus on expanding the Kicking Horse Canyon to four lanes

Mysterious bang booms over Sumas Mountain once again

Police unsure of source, quarry companies say, ‘not us’

Most Read

l -->