Dave Harlow hunched his shoulders and hid his face down against the biting wind in Qualicum Beach on Thursday, as the homeless man tried to avoid the freezing temperatures that were setting in.
“The cold gets right into your bones. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you feel nothing, but it becomes a blinding pain,” said Harlow, who has lived in Qualicum Beach for 30 years.
The 47-year-old hoped to escape that cold with the opening of an Oceanside extreme weather shelter Thursday night inside the Christian Fellowship Centre.
“As soon as we knew it was going to be cold, it was a no-brainer. We have space, we need to make it available,” said Brian Robertson, a member of the leadership of the Christian Fellowship Centre in Qualicum Beach.
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So Qualicum resident Karen Allin dropped off warm blankets and sweaters to help those expected to stay there.
“I feel so sorry for people in the cold and homeless, and just want to help a little bit,” Allin told CHEK News.
Yet, whether the emergency shelter would open was still up in the air as late as Thursday afternoon, despite the offer of the church space, staffing by outreach workers from Risebridge for supervision, and funding by the province. There was concern because several members of Qualicum town council had refused to sign off on it even as temperatures fell, and snow clouds socked in.
“It is shocking to see that every other community in this region that’s seeing this weather has stepped up, except for Qualicum Beach,” said Adam Walker, MLA for Parksville-Qualicum.
“When it’s -10 and you’re living in a car, people can die. Last year we had somebody freeze to death in this community. That cannot happen again,” said Walker.
So Walker’s constituency staff were preparing to staff the shelter if the town didn’t sign off on it, even as an emergency council meeting was called to address the shelter opening.
“We’re going to use my office staff and we’re going to make sure that this centre opens no matter what,” Walker told CHEK News on Thursday afternoon.
But down to the wire, at 4 p.m. Thursday, Qualicum Beach Council voted unanimously to accept the funding. The vote cleared the way for an emergency shelter to open at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and give Oceanside’s homeless a place out of the cold, just in time.