Staff bustle through the the 5 and 2 Ministries-operated winter shelter at the Mennonite Central Committee space on Gladys Avenue, converting the small space from a warehouse to a temporary winter shelter each night, disassembling the shelter without a trace each morning. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Operator, patrons see success at B.C.’s only 50+ shelter

The shelter, put on by Abbotsford’s 5 and 2 Ministries, became the first 50-plus shelter last year

“This is the most calm, peaceful environment I’ve ever been in, as far as a shelter goes.”

Those are the strong words of endorsement from Barry Friesen – a patron of the winter shelter put on by The 5 and 2 Ministries Pastor Jesse Wegenast – after preparing his cot for a night of sleep.

The shelter is B.C.’s only provincially subsidized shelter with an age restriction that isn’t youth oriented, instead restricting itself to only offer space for those 50 years and older.

RELATED: New temporary shelter for older homeless people opens in Abbotsford warehouse

RELATED: B.C. opens 2,000 shelter beds ahead of cold winter season

“Most of the people staying in there have been homeless in Abbotsford for a long time and are people who I’ve known for years. The older crowd definitely is just more laid back. You don’t have 30-year-olds, young guns running around trying to take advantage of people,” he said.

Whereas shelters often enforce strict rules to try to keep everybody safe and their items secure, Wegenast says next to none of that is needed in the 50-plus shelter. But enforcing rules, like a lights-out policy, wouldn’t be necessary even if they had a set rule.

When he asked patrons when they thought the lights should go out by, Wegenast says he expected to hear 11 p.m. or midnight. Instead, the answer was a resounding “as soon as possible,” and by 10 p.m. the lights were out.

RELATED: Housing, camping big election issues for Abbotsford homeless

The shelter offers just 15 bed spaces, the same number as it did for its first year of operation in the 2017-18 winter, and the space likely couldn’t take a significant increase. But Wegenast says there’s certainly demand for more – four people were turned away Monday night.

B.C. Housing spokesperson Laura Mathews said in a statement that the 5 and 2 Ministries shelter was full almost nightly last year, with an average occupancy rate of 90 per cent.

“This type of shelter could be needed in many communities around B.C. We know that people in their 50s and seniors are struggling with housing affordability, including rental rates that have been rising for years, which are edging people on fixed incomes closer to homelessness,” Mathews said, adding that B.C. Housing has increased eligibility and rates for rental assistance for low-income seniors.

Patrons at the shelter are also told they can miss one night a week at the shelter, offering wiggle room that many other shelters don’t or can’t accommodate. If they miss a night at the shelter, their cot could be filled for the night, either by someone waiting at the door or someone waiting at the door of another shelter. But importantly, they won’t lose their spot at the shelter the next night.

Grant Lorenz poses at his cot in the 5 and 2 Ministries shelter in the Mennonite Central Committee location in Abbotsford Tuesday night as he prepares to go to bed. He says he feels respected at the shelter, and the 50-plus restriction makes hime
Grant Lorenz poses at his cot in the 5 and 2 Ministries shelter in the Mennonite Central Committee location in Abbotsford Tuesday night as he prepares to go to bed. He says he feels respected at the shelter, and the 50-plus restriction makes hime “feel grounded,” having people more his age around.

Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

“I am a heart patient, and if I had to be in the hospital for a few days, I would not lose my bed,” Friesen said. “That’s important to know. … There was actually a time where I couldn’t get a spot and I stayed outside as a person with a heart condition, like blood clots and etc., etc., and all this special care that I needed.”

But that option to miss a day at the shelter offers securities beyond those with health conditions.

“Maybe they went out on a date, maybe they’re with a friend – any number of maybes. Maybe they messed up, maybe they have some family visiting,” Wegenast said.

“There are times when people get hung up when the snow gets really bad. … There are some people who are maybe unfit to make the trek (on icy sidewalks) from the Salvation Army where they spent the afternoon down to our shelter.”

Unlike most other shelters, this one is in space that’s put to use throughout the day, meaning it needs to be fully assembled and disassembled, effectively without a trace, every evening and morning.

When Wegenast arrives just before 7:40 p.m., the space is a blank slate, tucked away in a corner of the Mennonite Central Committee location on Gladys Avenue.

No more than a couple hundred square feet is is then converted from warehouse space to temporary winter shelter in about 20 minutes, in time to open its doors to patrons by 8 p.m.

Just Posted

Nanaimo’s Christmas light contest winners chosen

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce announces winners in holiday light-up contest

GUEST COMMENT: Raise a street kid in Nanaimo

Streets are important for childhood development, says guest columnist

Nanaimo swimmers show their team spirit at Blue and Gold Night meet

Nanaimo Riptides co-operate at team-building event

Sea Kings’ final flight holds special meaning for Nanaimo family

Dozens of people turn out with family of pilot to wave farewell to Sea King helicopters

Province announces partnerships to develop old Harewood School site

B.C. housing minister in Nanaimo to announce province is working with city, school district

Sea Kings’ final flight holds special meaning for Nanaimo family

Dozens of people turn out with family of pilot to wave farewell to Sea King helicopters

Four per cent of Canadian women report being sexually harassed in the workplace

One per cent of men report being sexually harassed in the workplace

Story of the Year: Deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash

The Canadian Press annual survey of newsrooms across the country saw 53 out of 129 editors cast their votes for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

Stricter drunk driving laws to take effect across Canada today

It gives police officers the right to ask for a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop

The prize was wrong: Man turns down trip to Manitoba

A New Hampshire man won the prize on “The Price is Right”, but turned it down because the taxes were too high

Man rescued from sinking boat off the coast of Vancouver Island

Mayday call came into Coast Guard saying vessel had taken on water, BC Ferries dispatched to scene

Station wagon crashes into supermarket in Nanaimo

No one hurt as car collides with new Quality Foods store in Harewood

B.C. Green Party members in Nanaimo vote yea for Ney

Michele Ney, daughter of former mayor Frank Ney, wins B.C. Green Party nomination

Driver unharmed in high-speed rollover crash on Trans-Canada Highway

Jeep and minivan involved in collision near Nanaimo River Road

Most Read