As B.C. begins to thaw from its record-breaking cold, the capital city’s shelters remain full.
“It is distressing when you have to turn people away,” said Adam Flegel, community centre manager with Our Place Society.
An extreme weather response has been in place for more than a week now, opening 30 emergency mats at the Salvation Army.
“We were well above the 30-mat capacity over the weekend for January 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th,” said Brenda Wadey with Salvation Army Victoria.
In response, the city opened a warming centre.
“The city emergency warming centre was at capacity all three evenings and saw steady numbers at our daytime warming centre (between 15-22 people) at any given time,” said Colleen Mycroft, spokesperson for the City of Victoria.
Riding the bus to stay alive
The feeling of being left out in the cold is something familiar to Li.
“It makes you not want to be alive,” said Li, a Canadian Forces veteran who became homeless because her military benefit paperwork fell through the cracks.
“The frostbite creeps up so slowly, you lose interest in everything. You don’t even want to move.”
To survive, Li says she’d ride the bus.
“What I was doing when it was so cold that I was afraid of hypothermia is I would ride a bus,” said Li. “In a way, I feel like BC Transit saved my life.”
Unable to seek shelter because of mental illness
Another Victorian who had to brave the cold was Chelcea Malec’s late son, Adam.
“He was concerned about getting into conflict with them, so he would stay outside in the worst weather,” said Malec, who said Adam’s mental illness prevented him from seeking shelter indoors.
Adam chose to live on the streets of Victoria, battling his mental illness and addiction. He died three days after Mother’s Day 2023 due to cardiac arrest, which his mother thinks is related to a fentanyl overdose. He would have been 38 years old on Tuesday, and when it’s cold like this, Malec can’t rest.
“I don’t ‘think I’ve slept for days,” said Malec. “We spent about 15 years trying to get supports for him locally and failed. And even though he’s gone, I can’t walk away from the other people on the street who are in the same situation.”
Malec says in Adam’s honour, she will bring food out to people outside right now.
“Adam would have liked that,” said Malec.
Choosing the cold because of close quarters, potential of losing belongings
For Max Redman, who is sheltering near The Mustard Seed, the prospect of being so close to others in flu season is the deterrent.
“I’d rather not be crowded and go inside,” said Redman.
For Dennis Davies, it’s the risk of losing his last belongings.
“You can’t store your stuff, so either you get your stuff stolen by bylaw or someone else. I’d rather be with my stuff and watch everything,” said Davies.
Even if they wanted to go indoors, there may not be room for them anyway in this cold snap. The city says it’s in the process of securing a location and staff to set up a warming centre Monday night.