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Daytime warming centres to now open for Victoria homeless during emergency weather events

Goal is to prevent death, injury caused from exposure to the harsh elements
Victoria will now provide daytime warming centres for those experiencing homelessness, during extreme weather events this winter. Victoria’s homeless population struggles with the winter weather in this photo taken in January 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria will provide daytime warming centres for those experiencing homelessness during extreme weather events this winter.

A lack of places where the city’s homeless could find refuge from extreme cold and wet conditions during the day was identified as a gap in the current Emergency Weather Response Plan. That strategy sees BC Housing fund service organizations to open additional overnight shelter beds when the elements pose a risk to vulnerable people’s health and safety.

“We have recognized extreme weather as a hazard that is increasing in frequency and severity, which is why we have turned our attention to it,” said Tanya Patterson, the city’s emergency program coordinator, during a Nov. 25 committee of the whole meeting.

People usually have to vacate designated overnight shelters between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., often leaving them out in the harsh weather. The warming centres will now be activated and open during the daytime when conditions meet the emergency criteria, which uses the same benchmark as the emergency weather response program.

When temperatures are near or below freezing, with rainfall that makes it difficult or impossible for unhoused individuals to stay dry, the centres will be opened. Snow, sleet, freezing rain and strong wind conditions could also prompt the openings.

If extreme conditions persist for days and emergency shelters run out of capacity, warming centres – which don’t provide beds or mats – may also be activated for the night. The goal of the centres is to prevent injury or death caused by exposure to the elements. Staff said activation will be on a case-to-case basis.

“If we do notice extreme weather events that don’t fit into these categories but we are concerned for the health and safety of individuals without shelter, we can activate it,” Patterson said.

READ: Rain, pandemic staffing, mental health issues compound issues for Victoria’s homeless

All costs associated with activating and running the centres will be reimbursed to the city through Emergency Management BC, if the criteria are met. Based on historical weather data, it’s expected the centres will be needed about 30 times this winter.

Some councillors were concerned about what happens to vulnerable people when weather events don’t quite meet the activation benchmark and situations where the province refuses to pay up.

“I was assured that (the province) understands and recognizes the gaps and this is something that is an emergency,” Patterson said. “Through the Emergency Program Act, they would cover any of our incremental costs.

“So I am quite confident that what we have in this warming and cooling centre plan will be covered through emergency expenditures.”

Staff will update council on the warming centre roll-out within the first three months of 2022.

The province is still determining activation criteria and a funding model for cooling centres. Victoria will work to have a finalized cooling centre plan before summer 2022, staff said.

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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