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Providing warm, dry places to sleep in Victoria

Jen Book, regional co-ordinator for the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol, holds a sign outside the Salvation Army on Johnson Street indicating to the street population that shelter is available. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Jen Book, regional co-ordinator for the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol, holds a sign outside the Salvation Army on Johnson Street indicating to the street population that shelter is available.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

When extreme weather hits the Capital Region, Jen Book springs into action.

As regional co-ordinator for the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol, she oversees efforts to help Victoria’s homeless population access additional shelters, on winter nights they would otherwise spend battling cold and wet conditions outdoors.

“Any snowflake in the forecast and we’re activated,” Book says.

The protocol is triggered before and during weather events including sub-zero temperatures, extreme wind or rain, and snowfall.

While November and December tend to be the coldest months on average in the region, the number of times the strategy is activated fluctuates. EWP figures show a high of 82 one winter and a low of 25 in another.

This season has been relatively mild so far, with just eight activations between Dec. 3 and Jan. 3.

That’s not unusual, says Book, recalling last year’s activations began in January.

“If we get hit with lots of cold temperatures, lots of rain, lots of wind or anything else, then we’re looking at more activations, and if we have a mild winter, it’s the opposite.”

When the protocol is in effect, 105 additional beds become available at Our Place Society, Salvation Army’s Addiction and Rehabilitation Centre and the Victoria Native Friendship Centre in Saanich.

That’s in addition to the 265 seasonal beds currently available on a nightly basis in the city, totalling 370 beds during extreme weather conditions.

This winter the program, which generally runs from the beginning of November until the end of March, has also provided 40 beds nightly at St. John the Divine Anglican Church.

The church, which formerly opened as an emergency shelter during extreme weather, accommodates men, women and their pets.

But available shelters in outlying regions of Greater Victoria continue to be in need.

“We’ve been trying to branch out and get into other municipalities, but at this point we haven’t been able to secure any locations for that,” Book says.

The ongoing challenge, she adds, is finding space suitable as a shelter. “We have had circumstances where we’ve gone in and gotten almost everything done, and then found something isn’t going to work (and) had to pull out (of the arrangement).”

Until those shelters can be developed, every effort is made to help bring in people from outlying areas. Bus fare is provided for those coming from Langford, Sooke and Sidney, for example.

The protocol also provides a nighttime shuttle service to help transport those in need of shelter. The shuttle runs daily from 9 p.m. to midnight, picking people up from stops such as Our Place, The Salvation Army or Rock Bay Landing and bringing them to designated shelters.

“It’s quite a flexible program where we tend to just react and respond where people are at as best we can,” Book says.

The EWP is currently in need of warm winter clothing, such as coats, sweaters, toques, and mittens. To donate, stop by the Victoria Cool Aid Society’s coat drive on Jan. 10, from 1-2:30 p.m., at the Downtown Community Centre, 755 Pandora Ave. For more information about the protocol, visit vewp.net.

Year by year activations of the Extreme Weather Protocol:

2005: 25

2006: 56

2007: 82

2008: 81

2009: 57

2010: 43

2011: 59

editor@vicnews.com

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