Last week’s cold snap that saw below-freezing temperatures overnight in most areas of Vancouver Island put the homeless population at great risk, more so in one community.
One person was found dead outside a Duncan A&W on the morning of Dec. 20.
The BC Coroners Service it is investigating the death, but says it is too soon to speculate on if the cold had anything to do with it.
“I can confirm that the BC Coroners Service was notified and is investigating a death matching the description provided on December 20,” the service said in a statement to CHEK News. “Until individual investigations are closed, we can’t speculate on what role (if any) the cold weather may have played in a particular death.”
Although the service couldn’t confirm the cause, Adrian Sylvester, who spends his nights biking around Duncan checking in on those stuck out in the cold says he believes the deceased froze to death.
“When I see or hear of people dying on the streets because there’s no warming centers it hurts you know, ’cause I was on the streets myself,” says Sylvester.
The community knew the victim and Sylvester says he was only 28 years old.
“[He] was a great kid, never gave me any problems, it was sad he suffered from addictions like a lot of people do on the streets,” added Will Arnold, a Duncan business owner.
According to Environment Canada, temperatures on Dec. 20 in Duncan were well below freezing, and with the wind chill, the temperature felt more like minus 6, yet there weren’t any warming centres open that night.
“Just before it was supposed to open, a day and a half before, the organization that was going to be leading had a wave of sickness,” says Michelle Staples, the mayor of Duncan.
The city managed to open warming centres during the daytime but at night people were left to fend for themselves, and for some, it has devastating effects.
“That week when I was out here I literally had to lay down with four or five people to warm them up, first they were shivering away so bad on the cement,” says Sylvester.
The city and the Cowichan Valley Regional District were able to find enough volunteers to open a warming centre the following evening, but with a capacity of 30 people.
“I’ll ask them a question, like why aren’t you at the warming shelter and they said you know, always the response was there was no room,” says Arnold.
The mayor says the biggest struggle they’ve had when it comes to warming centres is a lack of space.
“That’s been the number one issue, is the lack of locations,” says Staples. “It’s so frustrating because this should be something that’s all ready to go and set up but without having a permanent site it’s so hard because every year you’re trying to find something to fill this need.”
While the city and their partners work to find solutions, advocates and community members will continue to keep up their life-saving work.