Slow activation of Victoria’s Extreme Weather Response leaves some confused

Slow activation of Victoria's Extreme Weather Response leaves some confused
Despite the snow, the Extreme Weather Protocol to open shelters for unhoused people was not activated until late in the evening on Nov. 7.

With temperatures dropping and snow falling Monday night, some in the unhoused community are wondering why Victoria waited so long to activate its Extreme Weather Response.

“It’s not like this is new to the city. Cold weather hits every year. This is Canada,” said Trent Smith who has been unhoused for seven years, and is currently sheltering in Stadacona Park. “It was cold and windy…At least we didn’t have the 90 km per hour winds like the other day. That stuff was just brutal.”

Under the Coalition to End Homelessness’ lead, Vancouver and Victoria shared the same set of criteria to call an Emergency Weather Response.

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 zero-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

Vancouver triggered their response Wednesday of last week.

It became clear Monday to CHEK News, through Victoria city officials, that the coalition was no longer running the program.

“We needed to divest ourselves of something and unfortunately it was this one project we decided we couldn’t do this year,” said Sylvia Ceacero, the executive director of the coalition.

According to Ceacero, it was no big secret. The coalition’s executive director says all their community partners and board knew they were unable to run the program since September.

“I’m going to say a couple of months ago maybe? We wanted to see if the circumstances changed but unfortunately, they didn’t,” said Ceacero. “I informed the partners. And the information was available to them, so I’m not sure what else could have been done or said.”

Despite outgoing Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps sitting as chair of the coalition and numerous other councillors, the current Mayor, Marianne Alto (whose election campaign organizer works for the coalition) says the issue wasn’t top of mind.

“I don’t think the prior council had it on its in radar at that point,” said Alto.

Instead, it appears City of Victoria staff have taken over the program, setting its own Extreme Weather Protocol criteria, which hasn’t been provided to CHEK News, isn’t public, and hasn’t been ratified by council.

City staff told CHEK News Monday, despite heavy rainfall and wind warnings last week, then snow all day Tuesday, the conditions didn’t meet their new criteria for the Extreme Weather Protocol to be triggered.

At 10:46 p.m. Tuesday night, the city enacted its extreme weather protocol.

“I think we all understand that even though it may be in reality, the temperature didn’t meet the criteria last night, it sure felt like it did. And that reality needs to be reflected in what the criteria become,” said Alto.

“It doesn’t matter what the math works out to, it’s actually just the reality of when people are at risk and when they’re vulnerable…That is part of the conversation I think we should have with the province who do eventually set the standards.”

The province, however, says municipalities set the terms.

“Municipalities determine what weather conditions warrant an extreme weather alert and determine the number of extreme weather spaces to activate,” BC Housing said in a news release Tuesday.

Alto says the city is doing what it can to respond to these situations.

“In a perfect world, you anticipate everything. In reality, you respond as fast as you can and we did,” said Alto.

“Do you think the ball was dropped at any point along the way here?” CHEK News asked.

“No,” said Alto.

The city says extreme weather shelters in the city of Victoria will be open again tonight.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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