When it comes to protecting Langley’s homeless from severe winter weather, Aldergrove poses an added complication.
There are more than 200 people living on the streets, in the bush, and in shelters around Langley, with most in Langley City or western Langley Township.
However, there has always been a homeless population around Aldergrove and just over the border in Abbotsford near Fraser Highway.
This year, Fraser Holland, the director of homelessness services for Stepping Stone Community Services, has raised the alarm about a lack of Emergency Weather Response (EWR) spaces available this year.
A need for physical distancing due to COVID-19 means there is no additional room at the Gateway of Hope shelter this year, and a search is underway for a new site.
But getting people into EWR shelters from Aldergrove has been a problem for years, Holland said.
The need for an emergency weather shelter comes up when temperatures drop well below freezing, or when heavy rain causes a risk that homeless could become wet and succumb to exposure.
But the homeless living in the bush around Aldergrove have been reluctant to even accept rides to the Gateway of Hope in Langley City, Holland said.
“It’s one thing to go to the shelter, but how do you get back to Aldergrove in the morning?” he said.
Other homeless people were reluctant to leave their belongings so far away, concerned they would be stolen or thrown out before the could return.
Holland has tried going around with a van on nights when the EWR was activated to offer rides in Aldergrove, and has tried having a central location where people could ask for rides to Langley City, but neither was successful.
“There have been a couple of discussions about a site in Aldergrove,” he said.
Those have been hampered because it needs to be a site with up-to-date sprinklers and fire safety options, something not every space in Aldergrove has.
There can be between 20 and 50 nights designated as EWR events in any given winter, depending on the severity of the weather. During cold snaps, EWR alerts can last for weeks.
Holland said the need for more EWR spaces has been rising for the last couple of years, and the number of spaces was becoming inadequate even before the COVID crisis hit.