Coming up with solutions to provide shelter for the region’s homeless requires Jen Book to put on her creative thinking cap.
When faced with forecasts calling for nights of extreme wind, freezing rain, snow or sub-zero temperatures, she activates the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol, allowing additional emergency shelters to open and get more people off the streets.
Upwards of 145 mats can be made available at the Salvation Army, Our Place Society, St. John the Divine Church and the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, beyond the usual year-round emergency shelters.
The protocol’s typical operating season runs from Nov. 1 until March 31.
But extreme-weather shelters are also needed in outlying areas of the Capital Region to serve vulnerable people closer to home.
Book, the protocol’s regional co-ordinator, continues to look for spaces in Langford, Sooke, Sidney and Esquimalt to include on the protocol list.
“Our hope is to actually create shelters within their regions so we’re not having to transport people around so much,” she said.
It’s important to find the right type of space, said Book, adding the shelter must be able to offer clients a minimum of eight hours of sleep, among other criteria.
“We have a lot of communities that are interested and that are wanting to participate in this project, and at this time, based on the difficulty of finding space or shelter, … we’ve had to find other solutions,” said Book.
That means working with community partners throughout the region, such as police, to connect with the homeless and let them know where they can turn.
Other creative measures include arranging for them to be picked up and brought to the shelters, or covering the cost of their transit fares for the trip in from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal or Sidney.
“Our concern is that we might not be able to assist those people that might be in crisis, especially if we end up with a really heavy dump of snow,” Book said, adding that’s where communicating with community partners plays an important role.
“Up until the point where we can get the municipalities participating in the program and actually get shelters out in those areas, this is how we have to navigate this process.”
The protocol is also in need of coats and rain gear. To contribute or volunteer, please visit vewp.net.