Photo by ItkasanImages

Monday night’s snowfall falltook all of Greater Victoria by surprise.

Most Greater Victoria residents had their minds fixated on making it home on the slippery roads without a collision that evening, but for the city’s houseless population, there was much more to be concerned about.

Victoria has an Emergency Weather Response Plan (EWRP) that was implemented by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the City of Victoria.

By the coalition’s recommendations, the EWRP is to be triggered and implemented under the following criteria:

Temperatures near zero with rainfall that makes it difficult or impossible for homeless people to remain dry
Sleet/freezing rain
Snow accumulation
Sustained high winds
Temperatures at or below Zero Degrees Celsius

If one or more of these circumstances are factors, an Emergency Weather Response (EWR) will be issued by a coordinator on behalf of the coalition.

They will then work with Greater Victoria’s municipalities on a case-by-case basis to ensure there are warming stations open overnight when necessary.

On Monday night, the City of Victoria managed to open the James Bay United Church as an overnight warming station and put the word out around 10:45 p.m. on twitter.

The City of Victoria announced in the early afternoon on Tuesday that the James Bay United Church and the Cool Aid Society run Rock Bay Landing shelters would be open overnight as warming shelters as per the EWRP.

Currently there is an issue of funding when it comes to warming stations and EWR in Victoria.

The city is funded by Emergency Management in BC (EMBC) for its daytime EWR/warming activations, but the EMBC does not fund overnight initiatives. The City of Victoria must apply for reimbursement for these initiatives and is only being funded for the daytime warming stations

So the city must now move forward with an official agreement with BC Housing, who will fund overnight EWR warming shelters.

On Thursday, the newly inaugurated Mayor Alto and her city council will vote on whether to move forward with ‘Emergency Weather Response Plan Funding’ through BC Housing, or to not authorize the agreement.

Given the surprisingly early snowfall and unusually low temperatures, the province made an announcement on Tuesday that more funds for warming shelters and EWR would be made available.

Permanent shelters and temporary shelters will also be provided additional funding and spaces by the provincial government via BC Housing.

“So far this season, the Province, through BC Housing, has funded approximately 2,080 temporary winter shelter spaces and more than 480 EWR shelters,” the Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing said in a statement.

“Most of these temporary spaces are open and the remainder will open in the coming weeks.”

In order to receive funding from BC Housing, they have to have the staff and the space already. Only then can the organization secure funding from the newly allotted funds from BC Housing and the province.

In addition to the warming shelters that are part of the EWRP, there are temporary and permanent shelters in Victoria operated by mostly non-profit organizations who rely on funding and volunteers. There are a total of 11 shelters total.

Grant McKenzie, Our Place Society’s Director of Communications told Victoria Buzz that their organization focuses on year-round housing to provide the houseless community they serve stability.

“We have a night shelter that’s got 30 beds that we open every night,” said McKenzie.

“We find that that is easier to staff because people have consistent hours, and also easier for the community we serve because they know where they’ll be sleeping that night, instead of it being based on weather.”

Cool Aid Society, the Salvation Army and the James Bay United Church all have opened warming shelters and will continue to do so going forward into winter.

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