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

Author presents wolf research in Tofino

Paula Wild surprised by polarized views of animals that are both loved and hated.

A cuddle and a coffee: Six Island towns named among Canada’s most cozy

Sidney, Campbell River, Courtenay, Parksville, Tofino and Ucluelet crack Expedia’s top 40

Ucluelet police seize firearms and cocaine in drug trafficking investigation

The file remains under investigation and charges are pending.

New Coast Guard radar boosts marine traffic monitoring off B.C. coast

Six radar installations set up for Georgia Strait to Queen Charlotte Strait to Prince Rupert

Mainroad awarded 10-year maintenance contract for Tofino-Ucluelet Hwy. 4

See an issue on the highway? Report it to the Mainroad 24-hour hotline: 1-877-215-6006.

Saving salmon: B.C. business man believes hatcheries can help bring back the fish

Tony Allard worked with a central coast First Nation to enhance salmon stocks

High-end B.C. house prices dropping, but no relief at lower levels

But experts say home ownership remains out of reach for many for middle- and lower-income families

Worker killed in collision at B.C. coal mine

Vehicle collision occurred at approximately 10:45 a.m. this morning

B.C. asking for tips on ‘dirty money’ in horse racing, real estate, luxury cars

Action follows a Peter German report on money laundering in B.C. casinos

Canadian dead more than a week after plane crash in Guyana: Global Affairs

Global Affairs said it couldn’t provide further details on the identity of the Canadian citizen

Children between 6 and 9 eligible for $1,200 RESP grant from province

BC Ministry of Education is reminding residents to apply before the deadline

Victoria spent $30,000 to remove John A. Macdonald statue

Contentious decision sparked controversy, apology from mayor

Privacy concerns over credit card use for legal online pot purchases

Worries follow privacy breaches at some Canadian cannabis retailers

NEB approves operating pressure increase to repaired Enbridge pipeline

The pipeline burst outside of Prince George on Oct. 9, now operating at 85 per cent

Most Read