When the temperatures plummet and the snow flies, or the slush is deep, or the wind is gale force and cold life can be especially hard for those who live rough. When an ‘Extreme Weather Alert’ is called emergency shelters around the region open their doors overnight to add much-needed temporary spaces to the 956 permanent shelter beds available. As of this writing in mid-December 2016 a prolonged cold snap made this need even more urgent, as even the hardy souls who prefer to manage as usual outside for a few nights of cold and snow found it harder to keep going as temperatures dipped as low as -10 in the Metro Vancouver Area.
One of these Extreme Weather shelters is in the heart of Kitsilano, at St. Mark’s Place at Larch St. and W. 2nd Ave. Although the Anglican congregation that worshipped there has moved on, the building is still owned and operated by the diocese of New Westminster, managed by a Board of Trustees under the leadership of the priest-in-charge, the Rev. Richard Leggett, and still home to a variety of community groups and events.
With the only temporary beds on the west side of Vancouver outside the downtown core, St. Mark’s shelter ran for more than two weeks straight, often close to capacity. With space for shopping cart parking and pets on approval, the shelter can hold up to 25 people. The accommodation is anything but luxurious – a mat on the floor and a polar fleece blanket, but the room and the welcome are warm. Volunteers prepare and serve a hot, nourishing dinner when folk arrive, and shelter staff supervise overnight and offer a hot breakfast and a packed sandwich to go when guests leave by 7am. Everything must be mopped, washed down and put away before arrival of the staff of the Montessori preschool that uses the space during weekdays.
Photos: Neil Seedhouse