The extreme weather shelter that opened last Friday just in time for the worst snowfall since 1941 is operating well with word gradually spreading amongst Sooke’s homeless population, according to Linda McLean of the Our Place Society.
“There haven’t been a huge number of people to this point, but I can tell you that those who are arriving are very grateful for the shelter,” said McLean.
“We’ve had three or four people every night, and not always the same people, so I know that word is spreading.”
Our Place had arranged for a shuttle service to help transport those requiring a lift from the downtown crisis centre to the shelter, and , according to McLean, the RCMP has helped by giving a ride to a few clients.
There is an effort by some of the workers in the community to spread the word, but Jen Wilde of the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol explained that there are factors affecting the situation that many people don’t immediately understand.
“We have some homeless people who have a lot of gear accumulated and if they have a camp site somewhere, they can’t leave their stuff behind for fear that it gets stolen and taking apart a camp in the heavy snow isn’t easy,” said Wilde.
“Stuff can get broken or soaked, and sometimes people will just stay put.”
The other problem, admitted Wilde, is that Sooke has been without a shelter for so long that homeless people don’t know that it exists or have made other arrangements.
Sherry Thompson, of Sooke’s Shelter Society is out on the street, spreading the word, but observed that some of the homeless have friends in the community who, for the lack of a shelter, had opened their homes to thehomeless during very bad weather, albeit for a limited amount of time.
“People don’t realize that some homeless people were born and raised in Sooke and they do know people here. In really bad weather…sometimes…those people will let them stay with them for a while,” said Thompson.
The good hearted nature of Sooke residents has also been on full display at the emergency shelter.
“We have people in the community bringing in hot soup and chili so the people staying with us can get a hot meal,” said McLean.
“Others have offered to go out and pick up people in need of a ride, even in the snow we’ve been having.”
The shelter, which really came about as a result of the initiative of Mike Hicks, the Regional Director of the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, and Our Place, will continue to operate as needed until March 31, but Thompson expressed her hope that it gets renewed for future years.
I am extremely happy that it opened up and really hope that we can continue the service next year,” said Thompson.
“Right now, my concern is that for the community, to let them know that the shelter is open and that it’s a nice, warm, safe place to be.”