Many homeless in Victoria choose to stay outside despite the bitter cold

Many homeless in Victoria choose to stay outside despite the bitter cold
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Despite the bitter cold, and other dangers, many homeless in Victoria choose to stay outside in an effort to protect their belongings.

As the Island endures a cold snap, many homeless campers in Victoria are still choosing to shelter outdoors, even when they have indoor options.

The Rock Bay Landing homeless shelter in Downtown Victoria opened up 15 mats earlier this week, but few were used.

And despite another forecast for a bitter, cold night on the horizon, many will remain outside.

“They don’t want to leave the belongings behind,” according to Tracy Dansereau, a volunteer with Rock Bay Landing. “To leave your belongings out on the street is not a good thing here. Amongst the homeless population, it’s not safe to do that.”

But on the freezing winter nights, some of the only methods to keep warm outdoors can become dangerous.

On Wednesday night, a fire started in a tent at the shelter.

It started around nine p.m. and burned out of control. By the time firefighters arrived and put out the blaze, much of the encampment was already destroyed. The suspected cause is a propane heater.

“There was a couple of dozen propane tanks in the mix,” according to Don McTavish, manager of shelters for the Cool-Aid Society. “There was one of those kind of yard fire pit propane things. I think they might have been using for heat.”

One person was injured and was treated on-site for burns. On Friday, city workers removed damaged belongings from the area.

Dansereau herself spent years homeless, much of that time living in her vehicle before eventually becoming a volunteer at Rock Bay.

“I feel so bad for the gentleman who lost his tent and his belongings,” said Dansereau, who believes the fire could have been much worse. “I’m so grateful that everyone else is safe, and that no one lost their lives.”

Although many will remain outside through the Winter, there is work underway to house more of the city’s homeless.

Thirty shipping containers are set to be transformed into transitional homes in the parking lot of Royal Athletic Park, according to Melanie Ransome with Aryze Development.

“I think we can all tell by the inclement weather being demonstrated here today that it’s an urgent need for housing in our city for those currently sheltering in parks,” said Ransome.

“At 100 square feet, a small fridge, an armoire, chair for a desk, they are focused on giving all those core necessities needed to have a place to live, and find safety and security in their home.”

The project may be ready for next winter, but for now, there are more than fifty emergency mats open in the city for anyone needing a warm bed on a cold night, but many may go unused.

RELATED: 102 shelter spaces secured so far as March 31 homeless camping deadline looms

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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