Shelter beds added for cold weather protocol

Funding from provincial government enables provision of extreme weather overnight shelter

Three organizations in Victoria will be able to provide overnight extreme weather shelter for those in need this winter thanks to funding from the provincial government.

Our Place Society, the Victoria Cool Aid Society and the Salvation Army will have a total of 120 spaces available. Province-wide, the B.C. government’s $1.6 million funding will help more than 90 communities in B.C. make additional shelter spaces available.

“The winters can be really tough on people who are living in the street, especially when it is wet and cold,” said Grant McKenzie, director of communications at Our Place, which is able to offer 20 additional spaces with this year’s funding.

For Victoria, the provincial government defines extreme weather as being -1 degree Celsius, said McKenzie. However, if it is above that temperature but it is windy and raining, it could still be classified as extreme weather. If an extreme weather warning is issued by the province, then the shelter will be open. During those times, Our Place has 50 mats set up downstairs for people to sleep, starting at 7:30 p.m.

“At the same time, we have our drop-in so people who don’t want to sleep, but still want to have a dry place to be can come without disturbing the people who want to sleep.”

Our Place has hired outreach workers on contract who are on call to work overnight when the extreme weather warning is issued.

Our Place also has hot showers available, as well as a clothing program and a food program. Recently, someone donated an industrial-sized washer and dryer to Our Place.

McKenzie said this will allow them to recycle and reuse blankets for the first time.

“We’ll take wet, dirty blankets and exchange them for a dry, clean blanket.”

Last year, McKenzie said there were 36 nights of extreme weather.

Unlike Our Place Society, the Victoria Cool Aid Society will be able to provide overnight shelter every night from November until the end of March. Starting on Nov. 1, people could get their name on the list for one of the 40 mats available at the Cool Aid Downtown Community Activity Centre. As long as they show up at 10 p.m. every night, people are able to sleep at the centre for the entire five months. At 10:15 p.m., mats will be given away to others who show up. The shelter is open from 10 p.m. To 6:30 a.m. each day.

“We’re always at 100 per cent capacity,” said Joann Connolly, coordinator of Cool Aid Society’s seasonal shelter. “There is a need, and not just through the winter.”