In the industrial area of Duncan, Warren Yanke sits outside and doesn’t feel optimistic about the winter.
“Probably die. That’s how I feel like,” Yanke told CHEK News.
Sitting with him is Brenda Evoy, who is also unhoused. “I’m just scared. I’m dying on the street, yeah,” she said.
And their fears may be justified.
Duncan council voted 4-3 this week against opening an extreme weather shelter at St. Andrew’s Church, where it operated last year.
“All those in favour? All those opposed? This motion fails,” said Mayor Michelle Staples.
Staples says she is disappointed with council’s decision.
“Part of our responsibility as people, not just government, but people in general, is take care of the most vulnerable in our population,” she said.
Last year, the extreme weather shelter opened for 24 days at the church in a residential neighbourhood. Operated by the Lookout Housing Society, it housed 420 people in total.
Matthew Spurgeon lives directly across from St. Andrews Church.
“Last year was quite interesting,” recalled Spurgeon. “We had incidents from people fighting outside. Garbage just increasing all over the neighbourhood.”
He is sympathetic to the need for an extreme weather shelter, but there were too many issues last year.
“It was kind of a free-for-all,” he said. “So once it got full, that’s when people were getting found in bushes. They were getting found by the trees.”
While changes to the shelter’s operation were being proposed, it clearly wasn’t enough.
But B.C.’s housing minister, Ravi Kahlon, says the province is working on a solution.
“It’s disappointing that Duncan made that decision. My hope is that they come forward with an alternative location, we’re continuing to work with them,” said Kahlon.
“I’m committed to work with them because we need to get people indoors during this challenging time.”
While there is nothing available now, the hope is that there will be soon, according to Lee King, director of operations at Lookout Housing & Health Society Vancouver Island.
“We’re actively as a team looking for another site, or sites, in the Cowichan Valley. We hope to have a positive outcome to that,” said King.
“But as of today, we don’t have one.”
Until then, the hope is that the cold weather will hold off until people like Yanke and Evoy can go somewhere indoors.