With the advent of winter, and temperatures dropping lower each day, concerns for the well-being of Burnaby’s homeless population are mounting. The situation has become even more pressing due to a significant rise in homelessness within the city; according to the latest Metro Vancouver homeless count, Burnaby’s homeless population has surged by 69% since 2020, with 209 residents identified as homeless during the point-in-time count.
Carol-Ann Flanagan, the Executive Director at The Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, stressed the urgency of the situation. This city has only one homeless shelter, with a mere 40 spaces—30 for men and 10 for women. As Flanagan observes, this facility is always operating at full capacity.
Past winters have seen the Society oversee a temporary warming center at a local church, which provided shelter for 103 nights and received 1,068 visits. Flanagan noted that a large number of those who sought assistance at the church were women and the elderly. Citing an example, she shared a poignant scene of an older woman being wheeled into the emergency warming centre by her son. “We have to do better,” Flanagan emphasised.
In response to this escalating issue, the City of Burnaby initiated the Mayor’s Task Force on Unsheltered Community Members in June. Chaired by Councillor Maita Santiago, the task force has been striving to make concrete progress in combatting housing insecurity. Over the last five years, they’ve introduced two supportive housing developments and have established emergency warming centres.
However, despite these developments, there are still gaps in providing adequate shelter and warming centres. Flanagan pointed out that the warming centres are effectively seasonal, operative only when the temperatures plummet to zero, or during periods of consistent rainfall spanning three days or more. Last winter, the Society’s warming centre was constantly filled to capacity, leaving others to face the harsh elements without shelter.
Pointing to another area for improvement, Flanagan suggested that the city should embrace a year-round, around-the-clock warming centre approach irrespective of climate conditions. This move, she argued, would significantly reduce the gaps in shelter availability. Councillor Santiago conveyed that the city was collaborating with BC Housing and other community partners to facilitate additional winter shelter spaces.