As the colder weather rolls in, three councillors are hoping to revamp the city’s emergency shelter program for the region’s most vulnerable.
“If we turned the extreme weather response shelters into seasonal winter shelters, that would solve the problem. Just keep the doors open,” said Krista Loughton, Victoria councillor.
Instead of being tied to snow accumulation and specific temperatures, in a motion to council Thursday, Loughton is pitching to have shelter spaces opened permanently through the winter.
“I was at one of the extreme weather response shelters last year speaking with a man. He was sleeping behind the Thrifty’s in James Bay and he woke up and couldn’t move. He was frozen. I think that’s when the idea started percolating in me, ‘Why don’t we keep these shelters open every night?’ It was cold last night and it was 14 degrees,” said Loughton.
“This could potentially help with the disorder we’re seeing and also the suffering when people don’t have a shelter over the winter.”
Based on Sunday’s recent windstorm, Angela Dick, who has been homeless for just two months living in Vic West Park, isn’t looking forward to her first winter living in a tent.
“It was horrible, our tarps were flying all over the place, I was cold and I have arthritis you know,” said Dick.
READ MORE FROM 2022: Slow activation of Victoria’s Extreme Weather Response leaves some confused
The motion has to pass before staff look at locations, but Loughton is confident there are locations with solid potential. The winter shelters would not have set spaces for residents, instead, they would need to come back each day to secure a spot and wouldn’t be able to leave belongings during the day.
If the motion is passed Thursday the change in program would result in an increase in the cost, something that Loughton says will be negotiated by staff and BC Housing at a later date.
Pitching to phase out sheltering in two more parks
In the same motion, councillors are adding two more parks to the growing list of where they’d like to phase out 24/7 sheltering.
“During the pandemic, the shelters closed. The folks who were staying in those shelters got displaced into parks. So in a sense for the last few years, we’ve been trying to move away from that model,” said Jeremy Caradonna, Victoria councillor.
“Our council was elected to deal with this, but it’s not about shuffling people around we don’t want to do that. We want to get people into a better situation.”
Councillors Loughton, Caradonna and Susan Kim are hoping to phase out sheltering in Vic West Park and Irving Park by June 1. That date is conditional, on finding the camper’s homes.
Caradonna says the newly formed city-funded housing relocation team, operated by Pacifica Housing, has found homes for 1/3 of the people seeking refuge in the four parks where sheltering is already, or will soon be, banned.
24/7 sheltering in Topaz, Regatta, and Hollywood Park is now banned. The deadline for sheltering in Stadacona Park is Nov. 1.
It’s an attempt at a fix, Caradonna says no one else is willing to do.
“We’re a municipal government, we’re supposed to be paving the roads and building new parks. So to take this stuff on is novel for us and hope to be doing it only in an interim fashion. In the end, senior levels of government need to step up,” said Caradonna.