Locals make use of new shelter
Needy people have made good use of the Nicola Valley Extreme Weather Shelter since its doors opened on Dec. 1.
Merritt RCMP Const. Tracy Dunsmore said homeless people have stayed at the shelter each night this year.
“I think five was the highest number they had in one night,” she said. “They’ve had someone in every evening that they’ve been open.”
While the 1999 Voght St. location is central, the shelter is scheduled to move to 1937 Quilchena Ave. after the holidays — a full-time renter has taken the current location.
Staff and volunteers will move the eight mattresses that are available for the needy.
Dunsmore said those beds are usually enough to accommodate the number of people in need, but when the temperature dips lower, there is generally an increase in the number of people asking for help.
“We had one or two nights last year where I think there were 13 people, but that was not normal,” she said. “They just made do and people slept on chairs and couches.”
On a regular night, the shelter houses between two to five people, she added. Most of the shelter users are local, and they sometimes want to stay longer than one night.
“We don’t want to have them living there for four months. It’s just not appropriate, so we help them with local agencies like [ASK Wellness Centre] and try to get them housed so they don’t have to live in the shelter for four months,” she said. “If someone comes in, we obviously don’t want them to sleep under the bridge, but all the volunteers know what the other agencies are that can help them out.”
The shelter doesn’t have a shower or food budget, but some donations for food have come in and those who stay at the facility have been given a meal.
“Even just bread or toast and peanut butter at the minimum,” Dunsmore explained. “Some people have brought in a stew or chowder, so they have something to eat.”
As shift captain, Flo Campbell is tasked with ensuring operations run smoothly.
She’s worked at the shelter for the past four years, since the first extreme weather shelter arrived in Merritt.
Over the years, the users have been relatively respectful.
“We’ve had moments, but most of them sort themselves out,” she said, noting she works 10 days each month. “People respect it and I think they are getting more out of it every year.”
She said informing them of where they can find help for permanent housing is one of her goals.
“The volunteers are a big part of making all of it happen,” she added. “They put in a lot of hours and a lot of effort.”
Approximately $16,000 was funded by a combination of organizations. BC Housing pays $99 per day that the shelter is open, up to $12,000. The City of Merritt contributed $2,500 and FortisBC donated $1,500.
However, the shelter is still shy some money, so organizers are planning fundraising events.
The facility is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. Doors are locked at 10:30 p.m. to prevent people from moving in and out, though those needing shelter late are welcome.
Six paid shift captains and between 35 to 40 volunteers operate the shelter.