Advocates for Greater Victoria’s homeless population are putting out a plea to the community looking for more shelter space to combat the cold.
Victoria’s homeless population, of which there are more than 1,500, are pouring into local shelters at night in higher numbers than usual due to the snow.
For six days straight Victoria’s Extreme Weather Protocol (EWP) has been active, meaning that temporary emergency shelters have opened and more mats have been put out at local shelters. The EWP is activated in acute weather conditions such as wind, snow or rain or when temperatures hit 0C or below. Even with the extra space, however, more room is needed.
“We’re functioning at a much higher than normal capacity,” said Jen Wilde, regional coordinator with the Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol. “I’d say we’re bursting at the seams.”
Local shelters have been at capacity in recent evenings, including at Our Place at 909 Pandora Ave., which usually has 155 mats and an additional 15 when EWP is activated.
“We offer transportation to other shelters such as the Victoria Native Friendship Centre if they have room,” said Grant McKenzie, director of communications. “[But] I was just talking to operations and all the shelters they were driving people to last night were completely full by 11:20 p.m.”
The situation is the same at the Victoria Cool Aid Society, which operates Rock Bay Landing at 533 Ellice St. and the Downtown Community Centre at 755 Pandora Ave.
“The extreme cold and snowy weather that Greater Victoria is now experiencing is making life much more difficult, especially for Cool Aid’s clients who are homeless,” said Alan Rycroft, community relations manager. “Cool Aid operates 124 permanent shelter beds which are filled to capacity.”
Cool Aid also adds 25 mats to Rock Bay Landing during EWP activation, and 45 mats at the Downtown Community Centre, all of which are being filled.
Wilde said that funding has already been approved to open an additional shelter, but now the tricky part is actually finding a space.
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“I have been calling, emailing and looking all over the place. I’ve been actively reaching out, but so far I haven’t heard back from anyone,” she said. “We’re going to have to keep looking and keep actively asking the community.”
Finding a space isn’t easy as it needs to meet a few requirements; it needs public liability insurance, a washroom, and place large enough to accommodate people sleeping on the floor.
Additionally, shelters have run out of all items it can hand out to the public, including gloves, mittens, toques, jackets, shoes, socks and sleeping bags.
Anyone who can offer shelter space in Greater Victoria is encouraged to contact Wilde at 250-896-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who would like to make a clothing or financial donation to the shelters can do so at Our Place at 909 Pandora Ave., Rock Bay Landing at 533 Ellice St., or at the Salvation Army men’s shelter at 525 Johnson St.