Extra shelter beds open for Victoria’s unhoused, confiscation of items during extreme weather questioned

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As the first storm of 2024 hits Vancouver Island, Tammilynn Cardinal surveys the scene at Vic West Park, where she’s tenting Tuesday morning.

“Everything’s wet inside my tent,” said Cardinal. “It’s so cold. It’s so rough.”

Victoria’s Salvation Army says the city’s extreme weather response has been active since Saturday, which opens up 30 mats at its site on Johnson Street.

It’s the only Emergency Weather Response (EWR) site offering extra mats in bad weather this year, with the City of Victoria no longer offering warming centres.

“Local governments may activate emergency warming centres if there is a weather emergency, and all the above shelter spaces are full, and there are still people who are freezing out on the street,” said Colleen Mycroft, City of Victoria spokesperson.

With the windy weather only expected to continue and temperatures set to drop further, the Salvation Army expects to keep its emergency beds open until Sunday.

“The EWR is currently activated and has been active since Saturday evening,” said Brenda Wadey with Salvation Army Victoria.

“We are maintaining the activation tonight because of the high winds and rain. We are anticipating that we will then activate again on Thursday to Sunday. This is based on the current weather forecast with Environment Canada that has very low overnight temperatures.”

RELATED STORY: Wind warnings, high tides advisories issued for parts of Island

For many unhoused though, like Cardinal, leaving her only belongings behind to go into a shelter isn’t an option with the threat of bylaw or thieves always looming.

“Bylaw is creating a problem by taking things from people who don’t have much and creating the problem then of people who have to steal things,” said Cardinal.

On Thursday, Cardinal will be addressing city council about her concerns about these seizures.

“Anything that’s ever meant anything to me is gone by bylaw. They took everything,” said Cardinal. “Who is to define what is garbage to somebody and what isn’t? Like my stamp collection isn’t garbage to me. It’s very sentimental to me, but it’s garbage to them.”

Volunteer community groups like The Backpack Project, which see the tents they donate continually confiscated by bylaw, say something needs to change.

“I think it’s egregious. I think it’s got to stop. I think it’s not solving anything,” said Niki Ottosen with the Backpack Project

Ottosen will also be addressing council Thursday night, asking for an immediate stop to the confiscation of survival items before, during and after an extreme weather event.

“They should not be confiscating anybody’s tents and belongings before extreme weather and during extreme weather or even 48 hours after extreme weather. Because you can see, even the next day, people have their lives to rebuild after storms like this. It’s terribly difficult,” said Ottosen.

Cardinal has no choice but to weather this storm, planning to bring another to city hall on Thursday.

“Just because I don’t have a home doesn’t mean I’m not a part of this community,” said Cardinal.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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