For people living on the street in Victoria, getting dry and staying dry is a challenge in the winter, and with recent weather events the struggle is even more difficult.
“We’re not set up like other places that are used to getting extreme cold, snowfall, and heatwaves every year, so we’re now seeing the impacts of the more extreme weather on the residents,” said Tanya Patterson, emergency program coordinator with the City of Victoria.
The city, with help from BC Housing and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness (GVCEH) is ensuring that this winter all residents have a safe place to go inside with the introduction of daytime warming centres.
These new centres will be in addition to BC Housing’s Extreme Weather Reponses Plan that takes effect every year on Nov. 1, but will not provide sleeping mats or meals.
“When that’s activated and if there’s still a gap and still people out on the street whose health and safety we’re concerned about, and we need additional warming spaces, we’ll open up those centres,” said Patterson.
The sheltering of individuals during extreme weather events generally concludes at 6 or 7 a.m. daily, and those individuals who were sheltered at night must navigate the extreme weather during the day until the shelters reopen.
Many are unable to seek refuge from the cold within those hours.
“It’s provincial funding that’s allowing us to run these warming centres and it’s great to see the province recognizing that in emergencies the most vulnerable people are the most vulnerable in regular times,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
When weather conditions are deemed severe enough to present a substantial threat to the life or health of the homeless population, that’s when they’ll open.
Some of the activation criteria includes:
- Temperatures at or near zero degrees with rainfall that makes it difficult or impossible for homeless people to remain dry; and/or
- Sleet/ freezing rain; and/or
- Snow accumulation; and/or
- Sustained high winds; and/or
- Temperatures below zero degrees
If next summer is anything like Victoria’s last, cooling stations will be opened with similar hours and resources.
“What we’re doing, with climate change upon us, is really taking a coordinated approach with our Emergency Management staff. So, on hot days, cool days, and wet days there are coordinated places for people to go,” said Helps.
The city says the warming centres will be in place and ready as soon as they can be staffed.