Merritt’s extreme weather shelter will stay open 24/7 for the rest of its operating season, but more volunteers are needed if there is any hope of it remaining open beyond that.

Recently, BC Housing provided additional funding for the shelter to keep it open every day to the end of January, which shelter co-ordinator Amery Schultz said will now be enough to remain open around the clock until the shelter’s operating season ends on March 31.

The interior of the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society's shelter at 2038 Nicola Avenue. (Photo submitted)

The interior of the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society’s shelter at 2038 Nicola Avenue. (Photo submitted)

However, in order to realize his goal of offer the services of the facility in April, Schultz needs help from the community.

“My hope — my wish — is that we get enough volunteer support that we’ll be able to stretch even beyond the BC Housing mandate of March 31,” said Schultz.

Each winter, the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society receives funding from BC Housing to provide a warm place for people to get out of the cold between November and March, but funding is not provided to run the shelter all year long.

While the 10-bed facility is a place where anyone can spend a cold night, it’s primarily used as a resource for homeless individuals.

“I’d like to be able to offer our services well into April. Even though the weather’s not cold, homelessness still exists,” said Schultz.

Schultz said he wants to find a way to keep the shelter open in the spring.

“If the need is there we’re going to find a way to keep it open,” said Schultz, noting options such as community donations, reserve funds and even requesting more money from BC Housing as possibilities to fund any operation past March 31.

Regardless of whether or not the shelter is able to stay open in the spring for the first time ever, there have still been many enhancements to this service in 2016-17.

When a marijuana dispensary took residence at the shelter’s former location back in August, Schultz was able to find a new spot equipped with amenities such as a shower and kitchen.

The kitchen has enabled Schultz to start offering meals during the day, which Schultz said has been feeding about 20 people each day.

“What BC Housing expects from us its to provide a warm, safe space for folks to get out of the weather,” said Schultz. “At a minimum that’s a mat of the floor. They don’t really care too much if you go over and above that, but over the years we’ve identified the need for this service in our community.”

Schultz pointed out that he’s trying to replicate the types of services offered at full-time emergency shelters you’d find in other communities.

“Merritt just doesn’t have that,” said Schultz.

“My hope is that at some point in time the powers that be recognize the need that we’re fulfilling and actually fund us for it,” he said.

The extra money from BC Housing for this year has allowed Schultz to book at least one paid staff member to monitor the shelter throughout the day.

Two staff members, however, are required to be on duty at all times, meaning volunteers are a crucial part of the operation.

“When we lack volunteers we have to dip into the little bit of reserve [funds] that we have and pay staff, so that’s why it’s important that we get volunteers because the more we have to pay out in wages, the less time we can stay open,” said Schultz.

In past years, the shelter was only open overnight.

While it would be open every night from December through February no matter what the temperature, in November and March if the temperature didn’t dip below zero, the shelter wouldn’t be open at all.

To sign up as a volunteer with the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society’s extreme weather shelter contact Schultz at 250-280-6101.