Fifteen extra cold weather beds opened at the Salvation Army shelter in Maple Ridge this month as winter descends on Metro Vancouver and drives the homeless inside.
On Tuesday, as overnight temperatures dipped below minus two, seven of the additional mats at The Caring Place were occupied.
“The good news is we feel like we are getting handle on the situation,” said executive-director Darrell Pilgrim.
The shelter slashed the number of beds it offers in half last year after noticing a dramatic drop in demand.
As a result the Caring Place will only have 15 cold-wet weather spaces available until the end of March, in addition to the existing 25 beds it has year-round.
Pilgrim believes the number of street homeless in Maple Ridge has reduced after peaking in 2011. Some have found permanent homes, while others have entered treatment or moved out of the community.
“We actually feel like the number of people living on the streets is reducing,” Pilgrim added.
“We are working hard at that.”
The shelter however is seeing more seniors accessing shelter beds and meals, an increase Pilgrim attributes to a lack of subsidized housing.
Although agencies who work with the homeless believe there’s been a reduction in people living on the streets of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, numbers from the latest official count paint a different picture.
Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were the only municipalities in Metro Vancouver, where the number of people without a roof over their heads increased during the 2011 Greater Vancouver Homeless Count, a survey conducted every three years.
One hundred and two people were found homeless in March 2011. That was up from 90 in 2008.
Of the 102 – 40 were housed in emergency shelter facilities, while one person was listed as having no fixed address.
The municipalities were the only place in Metro Vancouver where the number of street homeless also rose – to 61 from 40. The next official count will take place in 2014.
Although the need for cold-wet weather mats has reduced, the Caring Place has not seen a drop in demand for its services, especially meals.
The Caring Place still serves 100,000 meals annually and more than 600 different people monthly.
Pilgrim often wishes places like the Caring Place did not need to exist.
“I always say I wish I could close my doors.”
• The Caring Place is in dire need for new socks and underwear for men and women, as well as coffee. To donate call 604-463-8296.
• The Caring Place hopes people will support Blanket BC’s Drive on the Line campaign, which takes will take place Friday, Nov. 22 & Saturday, Nov. 23 along Vancouver’s Canada Line from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• There are still a few tickets left for the Dignity Breakfast on Nov. 27 at the ACT in Maple Ridge. The breakfast, which is sponsored by businesses and corporations within Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, will include keynote speaker Peter Legge of Canada Wide Media. Tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org.