Emergency cold weather shelters open across B.C. as temperatures plummet

·2 min read
People gather for warmth outside a closed service provider in Prince George, B.C. in February 2021, amidst freezing temperatures that took the lives of several homeless people in the province's north. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
People gather for warmth outside a closed service provider in Prince George, B.C. in February 2021, amidst freezing temperatures that took the lives of several homeless people in the province's north. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

Plummeting temperatures across the province over Saturday night are underscoring the need for B.C.'s emergency cold weather shelters.

The province says nearly 40 communities across the province have received funding to open 360 extreme weather response shelter spaces as well as nearly 2,000 temporary beds for homeless residents.

"We know, with temperatures dropping, that people who are experiencing homelessness are at increased risk of danger and possibly even death," B.C. Housing spokesperson Sara Goldvine told CBC News on Saturday.

"At this time of year, as weather drops, it's even more important to be able to move people indoors to protect their health and safety."

Temperatures are forecast to plummet to -8 C overnight Saturday in Prince George, according to Environment Canada, while Kamloops is predicted to see temperatures drop to -2 C.

Kelowna's could drop to 1 C Saturday and just below freezing the next day, while Vancouver is expected to be rainy with temperatures as low as 4 C.

Last winter, several people experiencing homelessness died in cold weather in B.C.'s north, prompting calls for more urgent government response, boosting emergency services, and finding more permanent housing solutions.

The province says it is supporting nearly 360 extreme weather response beds, in addition to 1,900 temporary shelter spaces for the winter months. That's in addition to the existing network of more than 2,000 shelter beds in B.C., the government said.

The threshold to activate extra beds for extreme weather are set by municipalities, which issue an "extreme weather alert." Communities also choose how many extra shelter spaces are needed at a given time.

'Our goal is ... permanent, secure, affordable housing'

Typically, B.C. opens extra beds starting Nov. 1, but this year saw some groups receive funding a month early because they were "already experiencing extreme weather," the province said in a statement Thursday.

The city of Prince George is currently appealing a court ruling in favour of a homelessness camp in the city. Such encampments have been a touch point for controversy in courts and communities across B.C. in recent years, and advocates say there is not enough secure housing available.

The province's housing agency admitted that temporary and emergency shelter beds won't provide long-term solutions to the issue.

"Emergency shelters have a role, and a crucial role, in the system," Goldvine said. "Ultimately, though, our goal is to provide people with permanent, secure, affordable housing."

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