VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As cold air is sweeping across coastal B.C. and the forecast calls for snow across the region, local shelter spaces are expanding their services as winter conditions are especially treacherous for the unhoused.
Nicole Mucci from the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) explains cold, snowy conditions are especially treacherous for the homeless, and some have already taken fatal risks to stay warm.
“What we know is that extreme weather, it means extreme need, and extreme danger for people who are experiencing homelessness [and] for people who are precariously housed,” she says.
Friday evening, North Vancouver Fire and Rescue received a call to a bushfire near the Phibbs bus exchange after they put out the fire, they found a badly charred body — likely someone trying to stay warm.
“It’s really devastating. It’s so tragic,” she says. “When people are cold when they’re desperate, they may try to warm themselves up within their tent or within the area that they’re sleeping in and that can be dangerous. It can be life or death.”
In anticipation of the cold front, the City of Vancouver has made available extra shelter spaces downtown, including the directions Youth Services Center and Evelyne Saller Centre.
PLEASE SHARE: Additional shelter spaces and warming centres will open tonight through to Monday (Jan 21-25) due to an Extreme Weather Alert. @BC_Housing
Physical distancing will be encouraged to reduce the risk of transmission of #COVID19.
Details ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/1BeVbXMoqr
— City of Vancouver (@CityofVancouver) January 22, 2021
Outside of the core, a new extreme weather shelter has opened this season in Vancouver.
There are 20 new beds available at the Langara YMCA on 49th and Alberta Street.
There are a total of 92 emergency weather beds across the city due to the freezing weather and 282 spaces in Vancouver also open nightly during the winter months thanks to funding from BC Housing.
“You know it is treacherous, and it’s really important that anyone that’s outside during conditions like this has an opportunity to come inside,” Celine Maubouler with the Homeless Services and Affordable Housing programs says. “We are adding additional capacity, where possible.”
Mucci adds they’ve been able to expand their downtown shelter space, but the support also needs to reach out actively.
“We also need to make sure that we’re doing is meeting people where they are,” she says. “There are people who don’t feel comfortable staying in shelters overnight, who don’t feel safe for a variety of reasons, who prefer to stay with their belongings. UGM actually has got the mobile mission rescue vehicle, which goes out and connects with people who are living on the fringes and tries to make sure that they do have those survival items like sleeping bags and tents.
“People really shouldn’t have to choose between freezing to death or putting their lives at risk to stay warm.”