No one to coordinate: Victoria not opening extreme weather shelter spaces

No one to coordinate: Victoria not opening extreme weather shelter spaces

As winter weather hits Greater Victoria Monday night, the Capital Region will not be opening extreme weather protocol shelter spaces.

“I live on the streets. It’s really really cold,” said Rob Anderson, who is 41 and tents outside Pandora Street. “People on the streets, we need blankets, tents, cots, we need warm clothing.”

The protocol is supposed to offer extra overnight shelter beds “when weather conditions are deemed severe enough to present a substantial threat to the life or health of people experiencing homelessness,” according to the 2021/22 Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Plan.

The plan states that the extreme weather response plan would be triggered by:

  • At or near 0-degree temperatures; and/or
  • Sleet/freezing rain/snow accumulation; and/or
  • Sustained high winds; and/or
  • Rainfall making it difficult or impossible to remain dry

It’s a protocol that, in one shape or another, has been around for more than a decade, carried out by numerous providers over the years who were ready to coordinate and open spaces with mats and cots overnight for the region’s unhoused.

But those emergency spaces won’t be ready — because there’s no one to manage them.

“Right now, there’s no additional until we can get those extreme shelters going, so you’ll see people tenting out, trying to find a place out of the weather trying to stay warm,” said Jordan Cooper, director of services with Our Place.

A City of Victoria official tells CHEK News the Coalition to End Homelessness, which was set to operate the extreme weather program from 2021-2022, no longer has funding for the coordinating position needed to run it.

As a result, Victoria city staff are sending an urgent request to the new mayor and council at their first full Committee of a Whole meeting Thursday to step in and fill the gap by having the city run its own extreme weather program and apply for funding directly through BC Housing.

The new mayor and council will vote on the motion Thursday.

Meanwhile, the overnight forecast from Environment Canada for Victoria is wet flurries or rain showers, with local snowfall amounting to two to four cm, and wind gusting to 50 km/hr. The forecast for Tuesday looks similar, with things clearing late in the morning.

The details of the city of Victoria’s new criteria for the 2022/2023 extreme weather response plan have yet to be made public. Still, city officials tell CHEK News the spaces they open up will be warming centres, not shelter spaces for both day and night.

But once the warming centres are up and running, there are more concerns that the unpredictable, weather-dependent job doesn’t offer enough stability.

“I think the biggest challenge that we’re going to see with operating and getting up some of these extreme weather shelters or warming spaces is finding the staff to be able to operate those,” said Cooper.

Mayor Marianne Alto is the only incoming candidate with previous leadership on Victoria’s last council, and her campaign chair Janine Theobald works for the Coalition to End Homelessness. Neither responded to CHEK News’ request for comment.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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