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North Shore's extreme weather mat program open for homeless during cold snap

29 North Vancouver hotel rooms also rented for homeless by province during COVID pandemic
Homeless sleeping MIKE
A homeless man seeks shelter in an underground parking lot in 2015. Emergency shelter mats are available during this week's cold snap at North Shore Neighbourhood House.

The North Shore emergency housing shelter will have up to 12 emergency sleeping mats available at North Shore Neighbourhood House for those who need to get out of frigid temperatures this week.

Because of the need for more physical distance under COVID-19, North Shore Neighbourhood House is the primary overflow shelter site that operates under extreme weather conditions, said North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma.

There are also between 41 and 45 beds still being provided at the North Shore Housing Centre, operated by the Lookout Housing Society on Second Street, as well as an additional 15 cold-weather mats if needed.

Ma said she’s been told by shelter managers that so far the most mats used have been about seven, “so there’s lots of capacity.”

The extreme weather mat program is open from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. each night it’s activated and it is expected to be open until at least Feb. 14. Environment Canada is calling for overnight temperatures to dip to a low of -7 C this week. There may also be periods of snow.

Currently, there are also 29 hotel rooms in North Vancouver providing additional housing for the homeless, under a program put in place at the beginning of the pandemic.

That program, paid for by the province through B.C. Housing, has helped compensate for reduced capacity at the shelter as well as increased need, said Ma.

Neither the mat program nor the hotel room rentals are a long-term solution to homelessness, Ma stressed.

“It’s not an ideal solution,” she said. “Generally speaking there’s a need for more supportive housing in order for people to have a stable place to live.”

Ma said the province has secured the hotel rooms until the end of this fiscal year.

Selection of those who get a hotel room is made by the Lookout Society, which also provides on-site staff. Locations of the hotels are not made public, said Ma, to avoid a public perception that those living in the rooms are responsible for crime or public disorder. “It can be more perception than reality,” she said.

Ma added the hotel program has been operating successfully since the beginning of the pandemic “without the North Shore turning into the Downtown Eastside in people’s minds. We can house extremely vulnerable people.”

Just this week, the province also announced it will fully fund a new 60-unit supportive housing project in Norgate for women and their families facing homelessness, a first of its kind for the North Shore. The province and the District of North Vancouver have partnered with RainCity Housing and Support Society to build a five-storey project on district-owned land at 1577 Lloyd Ave.

Ma described the project as "desperately needed."

In January, police discovered a burned body in bushes behind the Phibbs Exchange bus loop in North Vancouver. Police said the person had likely been homeless and appeared to have been camping there.