The former The Stage building in downtown Mission is currently being used as a 44-bed shelter to help provide services for the homeless and other marginalized residents in the area.
Michelle Puffer, executive director of Mission Community Services (MCS), said each year the organization runs an extreme-weather shelter, which would normally close on March 31.
“BC Housing asked if we could continue to run it, but Elks Hall, where we were doing the adult weather shelter, wasn’t available anymore. So we had to scramble for space. So currently we are just using The Stage as a relief shelter,” she said.
While the cold weather is gone, COVID-19 prompted the request to continue providing help for those who need it.
“They are trying to get the people out of the camps because they feel that people are more susceptible to infecting each other,” Puffer said.
It took a bit of organizing because The Stage building, located on First Avenue, had to be modified to pass fire codes and allow for 44 mats to be located inside, each at a safe distance from each other.
Puffer said The Stage was the best location for the shelter because, although it is in the downtown core, it is at the end of the block and, hopefully, it will be less bothersome for people.
Carlo Billinger, president of the Downtown Business Association (DBA), said he wishes there had been more dialogue with the DBA and the residents in the area before the shelter was created.
“It was kind of sprung on us. We heard about it off the street before we heard about it from anybody official,” he said.
Since then, he has been in contact with MCS to discuss the impact of the shelter on downtown businesses.
Billinger said he has talked to other business owners downtown and they understand what’s going on.
“Nobody is hard against it … but we don’t want this to be a permanent thing.”
He has been told the timeline is June 30 and he believes businesses can live with that.
Billinger’s fear is the timeline will be extended for another 30 days and then another until it’s time to use it as an extreme-weather shelter.
“Until redevelopment comes on that building, I can see that possibility existing and I really hope it doesn’t. It has definitely impacted downtown.”
He said with the increased number of homeless people wandering in the area, First Avenue is “starting to look a little bit like East Hastings, which is unfortunate,” especially after all the money that was spent on revitalization.
Puffer said the DBA’s concerns are common ones.
“The problem with any of these kinds of things is a lot of people are ‘not in my backyard’ but they want people off the streets, but don’t know where off the streets, as long as it’s not near them.”
Billinger and other members of the DBA have been invited to tour the facility. He plans to ask several questions at that time.
“My biggest issue with it is it seems like there are a lot of new faces downtown, who have come because of those beds,” said Billinger, adding he has spoken with many of Mission’s “street people” and marginalized people and “none of them are living there.”
He suspects that the facility was created and now people from Maple Ridge and Abbotsford have come to use it.
“It’s one of those things where you build it and they come.”
Tyler Weatherup, manager of housing and outreach for MCS, said the shelter serves Mission.
“We basically hit capacity the first week we were open and my program coordinator there said, basically everyone is a familiar face. In any shelter system you see a transient population – it is the nature of it – but we are meeting the need of Mission,” Weatherup said.
He believes about 150 people live in camps in Mission, so the 44 beds make an impact, but that still doesn’t meet the local need.
The new shelter is open 24 hours a day and provides basic services – three meals a day, showers, basic hygiene products and support services.
“We are also working with Fraser Health and public health very closely to develop systems. So if somebody comes and they are coughing or have a fever or any of the symptoms, we have a referral process in place so they can go from the shelter to dedicated spots where they get testing done,” Weatherup said.