While the City of Surrey has provided space for a warming centre and emergency response shelters during the current record cold snap, the City of White Rock has not.
During a Christmas Eve regular meeting, Surrey council extended the holiday hours of the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre to provide a warming centre for people living on the streets.
A weather forecast at the time proved accurate, with temperatures dropping to a low of -16C with the wind chill.
For people in Surrey who need to get indoors for both their comfort and safety, Chuck Bailey (3458 107a Ave.) will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Dec. 27-31, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Jan. 1. From Jan. 2-3, the centre will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In addition to extending hours of operation, council unanimously approved using space in the former North Surrey Recreation Centre for an extreme weather response (EWR) shelter until March 31.
Couns. Laurie Guerra, Brenda Locke, Linda Annis, Allison Patton, Doug Elford, and Mayor Doug McCallum thanked city staff for bringing forward a corporate report on warming centres at short notice.
“Most people know that this council doesn’t agree on everything,” Guerra said to her elected colleagues. “It’s fantastic that this council, we always agree when it comes time to taking care of our priority population.”
Elford said the city steps up every year for its homeless population, but added he wants to see more.
“I, too, would like to see the expansion of other town centres in Surrey, if possible,” Elford said to council. “Our homelessness isn’t just focused on Surrey Central, but certainly this is a real good addition to our catalogue of EWR shelters.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the city has had a licence agreement in place with BC housing to use the former North Surrey Recreation Centre as an homeless shelter. Currently, the year-round shelter accommodates up to 96 people in the two ice arenas, and operates at full capacity.
With city approval on Dec. 24, the former weight room on the second floor of the recreation centre is now being used as an extreme weather response centre.
The new extreme weather shelter is to be operated by Surrey Urban Mission Society.
The City of White Rock, meanwhile, does not have plans at present to provide a warming centre or an extreme-weather shelter.
On Dec. 24, White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker told Peace Arch News said that while he had conferred with the fire chief and engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon about establishing warming centres for the anticipated cold spell, it was decided that the timeline was too tight.
“It’s not just as simple as opening them up,” Walker said.
Unlike cooling centres in the summer, he added, warming centres for the homeless would require trained and qualified supervision and greater city staffing which would require council budgetary oversight.
City facilities were not readily available, he said, and even had they been, social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols would have to be in place before centres could be opened.
Declaring the situation an emergency might create a precedent that would not necessarily have the desired results, he added.
“The question would be what constitutes an emergency,” he said. “And if this is an emergency, what else coud be classed as an emergency?”