‘Why are we waiting?’: Worry for unhoused in Duncan as storms roll in with no extreme weather shelter

'Why are we waiting?': Worry for unhoused in Duncan as storms roll in with no extreme weather shelter

Advocates in Duncan for the unhoused are worried for their safety as an atmospheric river is forecasted to reach Vancouver Island on Monday.

Weeks after the 4-3 vote from Duncan city councillors to not reopen the city’s only extreme weather shelter, advocates are worried for the safety of people living on the streets as another atmospheric river is forecasted to hit Vancouver Island.

“They got condemned and crucified out here because they’re homeless,” said Linda Williams, outreach worker.

After CHEK News reported on the lack of shelter space, the Cowichan Valley Regional District announced it would open Heritage Hall on the second floor of the Cowichan Community Centre as an emergency weather shelter as needed between Dec. 1 and March 31.

Following the death of her son while living in the streets, Williams joined Night Owl Outreach, an outreach support group aimed at helping the unhoused. Along with her friend Sarah McKenna, they deal with dozens of people who are struggling to stay warm.

“Each person out there, young and old, they may be going through difficulties but they’re still human,” said Williams.

On any given night after all other Duncan shelters are filled up, the two estimate there are at least 30 unhoused persons who have to live on the streets in cold temperatures. Environment Canada is predicting a series of stormy weather starting on Monday, bringing a narrow band of rain — also known as an atmospheric river.

The outreach workers have already had to call paramedics for cases of hypothermia and without an extreme weather shelter in place, they worry those calls will continue to happen.

“It’s Dec. 1 today, why are we waiting until the bitter bitter cold to decide whether we want one or not? We know we need one,” said McKenna.

The previous extreme weather shelter was leased out at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church last year by Lookout Housing and Health Society. Pastor Daniel Martinez says they were able to fit 20 beds on the floor, fitted with bathrooms, and a full kitchen.

More than 400 people were helped in 2022.

“We were happy and blessed to do it,” said Martinez.

Without another temporary shelter, the pastor has heard concerns from his congregation on the future of those living on the streets.

“Our congregation is concerned but we are also hopeful because this temporary shelter was rejected, that maybe we can find a more permanent solution,” said the pastor.

Martinez isn’t losing hope on the future of a permanent shelter and is helping unhoused peoples in whatever he can.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says he was disappointed the shelter wasn’t approved and is still working to find another solution.

BC Housing and the operator, Lookout Society, continue to search for an alternate EWR location in the Cowichan area, following city council’s vote against the previously proposed location. We have funding available as well as a willing and very experienced operator,” said the minister in an emailed statement.

Heritage Hall will open as an emergency shelter when temperatures drop to two degrees Celsius or below when there is also adverse weather like high wind, rain or snow.

This weather was present 24 times during the 2022/2023 winter season..

Lookout Housing and Health Society will operate the emergency weather shelter when needed.

Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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