Shelters struggle to meet demand ahead of cold, wet weather in B.C.

People are pictured on Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside during a period of cold weather on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
People are pictured on Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside during a period of cold weather on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness in the Lower Mainland say they are struggling to meet the growing demand for food and warm, dry shelter, and are worried those without shelter will have no where else to go.

Parts of Metro Vancouver are forecast to get up to 70 millimetres of heavy rain on Friday due to a cold front and an atmospheric river.

Nicole Mucci, a spokesperson for Union Gospel Mission (UGM), says their 92-bed shelter has been full for the last 10 months and with the colder weather, she's worried more people without shelter will be turned away, with no where else to stay warm and dry.

Since January, the UGM as turned away a total of 1,949 people — about six people per night, she said.

"This is really our first truly wet and cold weekend ... and the reality is, some nights we are seeing double digits — and often, there aren't other available shelter spaces for us to send folks," Mucci told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast, on Wednesday.

"There is concern that as people continue to come to us for shelter, the need is going to outpace what we have available."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Leny Kloot, shelters manager for Ruth and Naomi's Mission in Chilliwack, says the number of people in need of shelter this year has doubled compared to 2021.

"Everybody is full and we're having to say 'no' and people are having to sleep on the streets," said Kloot. "I worry about my clients and I worry about them just not being able to get warm."

She says they have been serving about 400 meals per day at their shelter since January and that number continues to grow.

Mucci says she's also noticed more families in need of emergency hampers.

"That has gone from being a once- or twice-weekly occurrence to having a different family requesting help every single day of the week for the last year," she said.

She says the shelters are turning away more people on nights when it's cold and wet, but not cold enough for the province to set up temporary extreme weather shelters.

"The biggest concern we have is for January ... because based on projections, we're looking at turning away possibly more than 20 people a night and that's really frightening," said Mucci.

B.C. Housing says it is funding nearly 1,500 shelter spaces in Vancouver this winter, including permanent, temporary and extreme weather shelters. Most are already operational, but some will begin in November and December, once staffing is in place.

"With extreme wet weather coming, we are concerned for the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness across the province," the organization said in an emailed statement.

"Given the great need for indoor shelter, we will continue to open additional beds throughout the winter season as other sites are identified."