homelessness

Is It Making A Difference? – Gateway’s Extreme Weather Shelter, Part 3

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(Pictured above: A pictures taken of outside the shelter. There are no signs, but this “homeless cart” gives evidence of its presence. These carts start to arrive a few hours before the shelter begins some nights. Photo Credit: Monica deRegt)

This is the final article in our 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Here’s the first article if you missed it – and the second one.


The Extreme Weather Shelter operated by Gateway Church has offered over 160 individuals a dry place to rest this winter. So, is it making a difference? For some guests, like Larry (you can read his story HERE!) the experience has been life-changing. For others, there is no way of knowing what impact, if any, the shelter has made, other than a one-night reprieve from the cold, wet streets of Abbotsford. Is that enough?

The same could be said of the impact on the congregation. There is evidence of community and relationships developing; attitudes are being challenged and sometimes transformed, and deeper conversations are beginning about faith and justice, homelessness, and poverty. But there has also been opposition; people who worry that we are enabling the homeless. Others struggle with the fears and risks that come with opening their building to individuals who may be involved in dangerous and unpredictable activities like drug addiction, violence, and untreated mental illnesses. And some members are concerned that hosting the shelter will negatively impact other outreach efforts. Is it worth it?

The truth that many of the volunteers have discovered is that homelessness – for those who live it and for those who try to help – is a messy journey with no easy answers.

The Shelter’s sleeping area set-up for another night

“It’s not just about Christian love and all of that,” says volunteer Dianne Mulder, in answer to the question of what advice to give to other churches considering hosting a shelter. Mulder and her husband, Al, decided to help out at the shelter to try to find their own answers about why people are homeless. They have learned that the answer is different for everyone, and that a dry place to sleep makes a different impact on each person. Some are more appreciative than others. “It’s not going to solve the problem; it’s just going to help in a small way. It’s brutal and it’s real and you are dealing with people who don’t think like you.”

Houweling believes the shelter is making a difference, not just to the homeless, but to the church as well.

Gord Houweling, who had a cup of coffee thrown in his face the morning after his first night volunteering at the shelter, shares a similar sentiment.  “It is easy to preach ‘turn the other cheek’ but it is difficult to practice when there is absolutely nothing in it for you.”

But Houweling believes the shelter is making a difference, not just to the homeless, but to the church as well, explaining that his own view of the homeless was challenged when he realized he knew the family of one of the guests. “How can this ministry do anything but impact our congregation? Has it changed how we view the marginalized? I would say yes in that at the very least members are talking about it. For those members who have a difficult time accepting this ministry, it is because God is working to help them process how they feel about the marginalized.”

Church members Heather and Aubrey Postma decided to volunteer because they struggled with the hopelessness and frustration of knowing how to help with the enormous problem of homelessness. Both agree that it has been very eye-opening and has changed the way they understand and care about the people living in the homeless camps in their city.

As individuals we aren’t asked to solve all the problems, but we are called to do something to answer the Biblical call to care for the poor and needy.

“As individuals we aren’t asked to solve all the problems, but we are called to do something,” Heather shared, adding that she doesn’t see how anyone could argue against the Biblical call to care for the poor and needy in this way. “Hosting the shelter so that one person stays dry for one night and gets one good night’s sleep is reason enough to participate.”

A BIG thanks to Mrs. Monica Kronemeyer deRegt for writing this 3-part story for Diaconal Ministries Canada.

Monica is a freelance writer and Academic Counselor at Abbotsford Christian School. She lives in Chilliwack, BC, with her husband and three children.


Moving Forward

Through their partnership with BC Housing, as well as with the assistance of several dedicated volunteers, the Extreme Weather Shelter at Gateway Church is here to stay. Each year, the Shelter runs from November 1 to March 31 each year. The criteria used to determine when the Shelter is open is the temperature and weather conditions: 0 degrees or colder (with or without windchill), a posted weather warning (of rain, snow, cold, etc.), and/or if snow is on the ground. If the shelter is opened on a Friday night, it will remain open for the entire weekend (until Monday morning) in order to accommodate the Shelter’s guests. There’s no easy way over the weekend to let guests know if it will be open or not, so leadership at the Shelter feel this is the kindest and simplest way to deal with that issue.

At the end of every season, Lead Pastor Marcel deRegt and Shelter staff take time to evaluate what worked well and what needs improvement for the following year so that they can continue meeting the needs of their guests. While there are members who wonder if the Shelter should be open continuously, from Nov. 1 to March 31, others aren’t sure this is necessary or sustainable, given the amount of volunteers it requires.

Please pray with us for the staff and volunteers of the Shelter as well as the congregation at Gateway Church as they continue to lean on God for wisdom and direction in their pursuit to show Christ’s love and mercy in serving the homeless in their surrounding community.  Pray that grace and understanding abound, both within the givers and those who receive.

Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator for Diaconal Ministries Canada

Gateway’s Extreme Weather Shelter – Larry’s Story

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Diaconal Ministries Canada invited guest blogger, Monica deRegt, to write a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

While writing the last article, Monica felt led to also share this personal story of her experience in meeting Larry, one of the Shelter’s patrons. You might remember seeing Larry’s picture in Part 1 HERE of this series. Also check out Part 2 by clicking HERE!


Larry was sitting alone at a table in our fellowship hall one Sunday in January, waiting for church to start. On the table in front of him was a single rose wrapped in cellophane. I knew he was one of the guests from the Extreme Weather Shelter we host in our gymnasium. I had met him before; he attends our Sunday morning services regularly. Combatting my inner voice that convinces me I won’t have the right words, I decided to go over, say good morning and talk with him.

Larry enjoying a beverage in Gateway’s gymnasium.

Larry turned out to be quite the conversationalist! He shared part of his story with me, explaining why he struggled to earn enough money at his part-time job to cover rent in our town, and how that was what originally led him to our shelter. He has since made a connection with one of our members who helped him find an affordable place to rent. He then complimented me on my freshly manicured nails and I was immediately ashamed and flattered at the same time: how pretentious and rich I must appear to this man, I thought. And yet, it also surprised me that he would notice and take the time to pay me the compliment. He explained, as if knowing I might be feeling uncomfortable, that one of the things he appreciated about being in our church was being surrounded by men and women who value themselves and take good care of themselves. His past was filled with many people who did not make those choices.

“I’ve met some really good, close friends here. Friends that really care about my health.”

Larry has found community at Gateway, saying that he experienced tremendous support through the shelter, where he felt treated like an equal person. Because of that, he wanted to show his support to the church by coming on Sundays to see what it was all about. He enjoys talking and having coffee with the members who come early before the services.

“I’ve met some really good, close friends here. Friends that really care about my health.”

Larry has become a regular face at Gateway’s community events as well. He participated in the Arts and Crafts Fair, selling prints of his beautiful drawings.

Larry is making a difference in the lives of people at Gateway.

And the rose he had with him? Larry takes a flower to church every Sunday so he can give it to a woman who looks as if she needs to feel appreciated. Larry is making a difference in the lives of people at Gateway.

Thank you Monica for sharing this story with us!


The Top 5 Things Gateway Church Discovered Running an Extreme Weather Shelter

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Above Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash: (I met Michael in a Boston subway station. I told him I liked his sign. “What matters is what it means to you,” he told me. I asked what it meant to him. “Doing a deed or expressing kindness to another person without expecting anything in return,” Michael said. I love approaching strangers wherever I go. Listening and talking to them teaches you about people and how similar we all are to one another. Just like Michael, we’re all seeking human kindness.)

This is the second article in a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. You can read the first article here.


When Gateway CRC decided to host an Extreme Weather Shelter in their building three years ago, the staff and volunteers knew there would be a lot to learn. Some were expected – that there would likely be drug issues, and that members of the congregation would have mixed emotions and reactions, and that the needs could be greater than anyone had imagined – but there were other unexpected surprises along the journey, too. Gateway Church wanted to share these learnings with other churches and groups who might be considering a similar venture in their community.

So here they are – the Top 5 things that Gateway Church discovered about running an Extreme Weather Shelter:

  1. The Need for Dry Socks… and more – In addition to space, bedding, meals, and volunteers, it was quickly noticed that the shelter guests had other practical needs, like the importance of a dry pair of socks. Volunteer Coordinator, Teresa Spyksma, was surprised at how many pairs they have handed out so far. Gateway is also in the process of installing a washer and dryer in the church as providing clean and dry clothes for the guests meets another practical, yet important, need.
  2. The Amount of Work and Time – Head Coordinator of the Shelter, Jenny Vanderheide, shared that it took way more hours than she expected to organize all the volunteers, saying it takes about 8 volunteers per night to run the shelter: 5 to provide food and 3 to cover both shifts. Gateway staff have also learned that the shelter work isn’t necessarily over when morning comes. They found that many shelter guests, attracted to the hospitality, did not want to leave in the morning or would find reasons to spend more time in the area. This presented new challenges, but also unique opportunities and lasting relationships, and certainly involved a steep learning curve regarding how to respond in a way that was suitable for the church and for the clients.
  3. The Presence of Drugs – One of the biggest challenges with running the Extreme Weather Shelter is the reality of drugs. While it is somewhat possible to prevent the use of drugs on the property, avoiding the evidence of drug use that comes with it (paraphernalia, needles, etc.) is a bit more difficult. Staff and congregation members have had to learn how to manage this as well as respond to the fears that inevitably go with it. Something else that surprised Spyksma was why homelessness and drug-use seem to go hand-in-hand. “I used to believe that people got addicted to drugs and [then] ended up on the street – homeless,” she remarked. “Now I have learned that it is much more common to have other situations cause the homelessness and once on the street, people turn to drugs.”
  4. The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues – Many of the people who come into the shelter have a variety of mental health issues, apart from addictions to drugs or alcohol. In fact, in many cases, this may be the underlying cause for homelessness or addiction. Supporting these people might be the greatest challenge at the Shelter, according to the coordinators. Dealing with the drugs and mental health has helped the church realize the importance of partnering with organizations who are already equipped to deal with these situations.
  5. The Joy of Building Relationships – Coordinators, staff and volunteers consistently share the same experience – as Vanderheide says, “You become attached to these people when you see them night after night and wonder where they are when they do not show up one night, and hope and pray that they are okay.” Spyksma explains how hearing the heart-wrenching stories when she talks one-on-one with the clients helps her to feel more empathy and love. She says she knows that the clients feel the impact of this as well, as some come in just to sit and chat or to pray with the volunteers after something has happened to them. The relationships being built go both ways, as some of the guests have become protective of the church and have taken sacrificial steps to safeguard the building and volunteers from any perceived danger. Other guests have found housing and job offers from connections with church members, and one gentleman regularly attends Gateway Church on Sunday mornings because of the relationships that are being formed.

The biggest surprise expressed by those involved with the shelter is that they feel so blessed to be part of it.

Although there has been a lot more learning and work than unexpected, the biggest surprise expressed by those involved with the shelter is that they feel so blessed to be part of it. Spyksma sums it up beautifully: “I had NO idea that I would love this work. I love being able to actively serve this marginalized community and try to show through my speech and actions that they are valuable, worthy of respect, and ultimately loved.”


Monica Kronemeyer deRegt is a freelance writer and Academic Counselor at Abbotsford Christian School. She lives in Chilliwack, BC, with her husband and three children.

“How could we say ‘no?’” Gateway CRC responds to need for homeless shelter

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(Pictured Above: Larry, one of the shelter’s guests who has also started to regularly attend Gateway, sitting in the church gym.)

This month, guest blogger Monica deRegt will be writing a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. 
Our theme for December has been “Helping Without Harming” and we hope this story inspires churches to trust God and follow Him into their communities, despite the risks and the unknowns, in order to be a light in this world.


When Gateway CRC (Abbotsford, BC) designed their new building over a decade ago, they knew they wanted it to be a facility that could be used by the broader community. They planned for a large auditorium with a suitable stage for concerts, a spacious banquet hall for rentals, and they kept the original gymnasium and classrooms that were part of the old school building, to be used by groups within and outside of the church. What they didn’t envision was receiving an urgent request on a cold December day in 2016 for additional space to accommodate homeless men and women living in their neighbourhood.

When Jesse Wegenast, director of 5 and 2 Ministries, a local organization that ministers to homeless people, approached Gateway, he was hesitant at first because he had been turned down by every other church he had asked up to that point. But, desperate to find space for 30 beds for people who needed to get out of the cold as soon as possible, and knowing Gateway was a large facility, he decided to take his chances.

Within a week, Gateway’s gym was transformed into an Extreme Weather Shelter that remained open for over 70 nights during a long, cold winter. 5 and 2 Ministries operated the shelter and provided the staff, along with support from the City of Abbotsford. Gateway provided the space, warm meals every night for the guests, along with custodial services and other needs as they arose. In 2017, Gateway took over and managed the shelter on their own, with guidance from the Extreme Weather Shelter Action Committee of Abbotsford, and funding from BC Housing.

So how did it all come together? It wasn’t without its challenges, some of which are still being ironed out as the church heads into the third winter hosting the shelter, shared Gateway’s Executive Pastor Marcel deRegt. Because this ministry arose out of an urgent need, none of the typical ministry planning and preparation took place.

“But how could we say ‘no?’” deRegt asks. “We are the church, this is what we are called to do as believers.”

“But how could we say ‘no?’ We are the church; this is what we are called to do as believers.” 
Pastor deRegt

So, they said yes and decided to figure it out as they went. The learning curve was steep as most Gateway members had very little experience with homeless people prior to opening the shelter. There was some fear and misgivings, a lot of eye-opening moments, as well as a few frustrations. But mostly there was a genuine desire to help even if everyone didn’t know exactly what to say or do. Many responded in the only way they knew how – with food. Empty crockpots stacked up beside the church mailboxes each morning were a testament to the dozens of meals that members would drop off each night. Some members volunteered to sit with the homeless people in the evenings. A group of people came together early on Christmas morning to share a pancake breakfast and Christmas gifts with the shelter guests.

When Gateway took over the management of the shelter in 2017, more planning and paperwork needed to happen. DeRegt and the rest of the staff and council worked closely with the local Salvation Army and BC Housing to sort out funding and other details such as bylaw changes, as well as hiring a coordinator to oversee the program and manage the volunteers.

Lasting relationships have been formed with some of the guests, and hearts and lives have been transformed within both the congregation and the shelter. 

Last year, the shelter provided a dry bed and a warm meal for over 450 individuals. But more than that, lasting relationships have been formed with some of the guests, and hearts and lives have been transformed within both the congregation and the shelter.  


Monica Kronemeyer deRegt is a freelance writer and Academic Counselor at Abbotsford Christian School. She lives in Chilliwack, BC, with her husband and three children.