More beds could open soon at a Sarnia homeless shelter.
Finishing keys are underway on the more than four years$1-million expansion at River City Vineyard, church pastor George Esser said.
“I’m hoping a week from Friday (Dec. 8), I can actually be open,” he said on Dec. 6, noting that hinges on inspections by the project architect and the city.
“It’s going to feel really good when I get done,” he said.
The church’s 28-bed shelter for men, the River City Vineyard Sanctuary, is normally full and has a waiting list, Esser said. “We have people who are camping outside.”
The expansion adds room for another 26 men and 16 women, bringing total shelter capacity to 70, he said.
All the new beds are in pods, which are steel frames with tarps for privacy and lockboxes for storage.
Plans are to convert the existing 28 beds to pods, Esser said. “Once we finish this shelter expansion and get everyone approved, then we’re going to work on (that).”
Bathroom renovations, lighting and other upgrades were also part of the project, and all but $100,000 of the cost is paid, with fundraising planned to cover the rest, he said.
Hopes were to have the project done earlier this yearbut window work needed to be redone, adding time and another $50,000 to the cost, he said, noting contractors were also generous with their time and pricing.
Sarnia officials, during a recent discussion about creating a tent city for Sarnia’s homeless population, said 10 to 15 homeless people either won’t enter city shelters or can’t, due to restrictions.
Lambton County social services officials said there’s enough room in existing shelters to house all the city’s homeless, and recommended against sanctioning a city over violence, fire and other concerns.
City council also voted to not proceed with a tent city.
But there is still demand, Esser said. “People keep coming to us.”
River City aims to help people dealing with drug issues and homelessness get “unstuck,” he said, noting the drug-free facility drug tests clients who want to stay.
“Homelessness is not the real issue,” Esser said. “It is a symptom of a larger problem.”
Offering a stable environment, and a place to feel loved and accepted helps those who stay at River City, he said.
The Sanctuary program allows unlimited stays in its shelter beds, doesn’t operate as a crisis-care facility and doesn’t push people to find longer-term housing, Esser added. But it does have a housing program for those who are interested.