The City of Victoria’s Michigan Street warming centre will remain open overnight for the first time, as shelters for those facing homelessness reach capacity and staffing shortages in this week’s record cold snap.
The city’s James Bay United Church warming centre had closed as scheduled at 10:30 p.m. the evening of Dec. 26. As wind chill reached a near-record low of – 16 C that night, the Salvation Army A.R.C. reached their first overnight capacity of 30 people and Our Place Society’s drop-in centre closed at 7 p.m. – two hours ahead of schedule – to accommodate their end-of-day procedures on short staff, according to respective representatives Nina Grossman and Julian Daly.
After being made aware of the heightened need, the City of Victoria hired more staff to manage the warming centres. They will operate throughout the night of Dec. 27 and until temperatures are expected to rise above freezing on Thursday, said Grossman, the emergency weather alert coordinator for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.
“By having the warming centre open tonight, we can provide extra relief to homeless shelters reaching capacity,” Grossman said. She described frontline shelter workers at 525 Johnson Street stretching supplies to provide as many spaces as possible for those experiencing homelessness. “Everyone is doing the best we can,” she said.
Daly said the situation is very concerning. “It’s a dangerous time when temperatures get to this level. People out for extended periods can get frostbite, lose a finger or toe, or die of hypothermia.” Both he and Grossman said they were likewise grateful for the city for procuring the means to find extra space.
When it comes to infrastructure for providing for those facing homelessness, “Victoria is pretty well set up for this,” Daly said. Any deficit in care is mainly a staffing issue. To manage 11 shelters for 500 individuals 24/7, “it’s essential for us to have staff, and we’re facing the same pressures as everyone,” he said.
As shelter employees need the training to staff their most challenging frontline positions, Grossman said volunteers aren’t being accepted to the city or coalition’s emergency weather shelters. Paid positions with Our Place put a little more weight on aptitude, Daly said. Given the strains on staffing, “lack of formal education is not a barrier to (Our Place),” he said.
For a current list of temporary, permanent and extreme weather response shelters in B.C., visit the BC Housing website at smap.bchousing.org or call or text 211.
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