VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As a deep-freeze sets in around the Lower Mainland this week, an advocate for the homeless on the Downtown Eastside says for those without homes, the coming days could be life-or-death.
Jeremy Hunka with the Union Gospel Mission says during cold snaps, there are far fewer spaces available in shelters than there are people who are homeless.
“And there’s still people sleeping outside when it’s cold. So, region-wide across Metro Vancouver, we know that unfortunately hundreds of people will be outside during the cold snap,” he tells NEWS 1130.
The City of Vancouver has activated seven additional shelters and warming centres due to the extreme cold. However, Hunka notes these spaces aren’t always easy to access.
“It’s not necessarily easy for people to know to get into those spaces or to access them if they’ve been living kind of on the margins or outside certain city centres. It can be quite a ways to go for some people and they’re dealing with a huge number of other crises,” he adds. “When things kind of pop up and open for a short period of time, however needed that is, it doesn’t address the long-term problem and it also can be a little bit more challenging for people to know when, where, and to travel if they need to to get into those spaces.”
He believes this situation brings light to the wider issue of housing across the Lower Mainland, saying there aren’t enough spaces or supports for the most vulnerable.
“Generally, we need to do a lot more,” Hunka says.
PLEASE SHARE: Additional shelter spaces and warming centres will open tonight through to next Tuesday (Feb 5-9) due to an Extreme Weather Alert. @BC_Housing
Physical distancing will be encouraged to reduce the risk of transmission of #COVID19.
— City of Vancouver (@CityofVancouver) February 6, 2021
Hunka says UGM outreach workers will be giving out survival gear throughout the week. These items include things like toques and gloves.
Temperatures could drop to -10 degrees this week.
“An arctic ridge of high pressure is dropping down across Alberta and it continues to slump to the south and back to the east,” Meteorologist Michael Kuss explains. “It’s going to push that arctic cold front all the way west of Vancouver Island and that means temperatures dropping well below seasonal. In fact, we could see some record lows by Thursday and Friday this week.”
A special weather statement is in place for Metro Vancouver.
Staying safe while keeping warm
With people looking to keep warm over the next week, fire crews are reminding you to be careful.
Vancouver Fire Rescue Services is expecting an uptick in calls as a result of the frigid temperatures, as many turn to space heaters to fight off the cold.
“Don’t leave it next to curtains or bedding or anything like that, and never leave it alone with a child in the room. We have had incidents that have involved that and we definitely don’t want to go down that road again,” explains Captain Jonathan Gormick.
Gormick says many of the department’s cold-weather calls have to do with people using open flames to keep warm, especially in tents or make-shift shelters.
“Extreme weather, especially for those who are experiencing homelessness, means extreme risk. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that the cold weather can be deadly for people who are without a home, without a warm place to go,” Hunka adds. “We’ve already seen people die, badly burned trying to keep their tent warm during the cold with a candle or in some other way.”
Hunka says the concern grows when the temperature drops.
In addition to employing a little common sense when using space heaters and similar items, fire crews recommend making sure any carbon monoxide detectors you may have are working.
We see an influx at the beginning of the winter — typically in November when people turn on their furnaces for the first time in a few months — and if they haven’t been serviced properly, the ventilation may not work,” Gormick says. “But, again, this time of year when people may be using combustion devices in a non-ventilated space, we see an increase in those calls as well.”