Squamish’s only homeless shelter is looking to move its beds to a house in Dentville.
Squamish Helping Hands Society’s current downtown 24/7 emergency shelter is bursting at the seems, the shelter’s executive director Maureen Mackell told Squamish council at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 4).
The society runs its services out of the 1,000-square-foot former fire house, which has been donated to the organization by the municipality for the past six years. Although it has served the need well, the facility no longer can meet the society’s demand, Mackell said.
“We are outgrowing the fire house,” she said, adding that it’s not really suitable as a homeless shelter.
The society’s end plan is to have its own building that can accommodate its food programs, an emergency shelter and supportive housing units. Over the past year, with funding from the Vancity Community Foundation, the society has contracted consultants CitySpaces to examine a number of options, from retrofitting the fire house to building a new facility. The company, which specializes in housing and liveable communities, is in the final stages of a feasibility study, stated a letter to council.
In the interim, Helping Hands is eyeing the former mental health residence Iris Place. B.C. Housing officials have indicated the provincial Crown agency is willing to give the society the use of the Wilson Crescent house, which is currently empty.
The society is considering moving the sleeping aspect of its programs to the house, while leaving its food programs in the fire house, Mackell said.
“We will continue to provide 24-hour service as mandated and funded by B.C. Housing, but in two locations,” Mackell’s letter stated.
The house will also provide a segregated space for women seeking shelter, she told council, something not available at the fire house.
On the food side, Helping Hands is looking to collaborate with the Squamish Food Bank and is in talks with the Alano Club. Helping Hands weekly redirects a tonne of food nearing its expiry date from the landfill and into its many initiatives. Last year, the society also provided 12,600 sandwiches to children at schools who didn’t have regular lunches.
Coun. Susan Chapelle said she was glad to hear about such cooperation.
“What I don’t enjoy seeing is competing charities in a small community,” she said.
In an interview last November, Mackell told The Chief the number of people regularly using Squamish’s only homeless shelter was on the rise. Over the past year, Squamish Helping Hands Society has recorded 147 unique visitors — people who use the shelter regularly. That’s 29 more regular visitors than last year.