More extreme weather response shelters are being set up across the province in an effort to better protect B.C.'s most vulnerable citizens as freezing temperatures are expected in the coming days.
On Tuesday the province announced 360 new emergency shelters are now available, an increase from last year.
"People experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable in extreme temperatures. This winter, the province is providing more than 1,900 temporary shelter spaces, and nearly 360 extreme weather shelter spaces, that's a 25 per cent increase in the number of shelter spaces over last year," said Mike Farnworth, minister of Public Safety.
The number of beds available at each extreme weather response shelter varies. Some shelters have four beds, while others have up to 50. A comprehensive list of emergency shelters can be found on the B.C. Housing website.
A map of new emergency weather response shelters across Metro Vancouver:
Two new extreme weather response shelters have opened in Delta and Port Moody. The shelters are operated by the Phoenix Society, an organization providing housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness, addictions and mental health issues.
"We are providing support for up to 15 people a night. There are no permanent shelters in Port Moody or supportive housing, so it really is that safety net that provides people the opportunity to get out of this weather," said Keir Macdonald, CEO of the Phoenix Society.
The Port Moody facility is located at 125 Kyle Street and is open from 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. The Delta shelter is run out of the New Hope Church and is open 9:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.
"Men and women over the age of 19, can come in ... get a warm drink, something to eat. We have fresh toiletries, some toques, some warm clothes ... sometimes people are coming in out of the rain and just need a place to get warm and dry, and then a warm safe place to sleep overnight," said Macdonald.
Emergency shelters provide warmth and support
After battling with mental health and addictions issues for more than 20 years, Shea Roddie says he has had to turn to emergency shelters on multiple occasions, for help and a warm roof over his head.
"This time of year can be very lonely. It can be a very difficult time for people who struggle. Having an emergency shelter, not only are you keeping yourself out of this cold, it's about support, too. It's about having someone open their arms to you, who cares."
The 39 year old is a recent graduate of the Phoenix Society's 90-day substance use treatment program. He says while he is no longer homeless, he can still remember what it was like sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures.
"It's obviously uncomfortable and cold, but not only that, it's morally debilitating, too. It's hard being out there alone, with no place to go. Sometimes places like this, offering you a hot cup of coffee and a clean pair of socks, can mean the world," said Roddie.
Macdonald says the extreme weather response shelter in Delta has already seen a huge demand since it opened its doors on Dec. 15.
We really do have a full spectrum of people who are accessing these services. From people who are living in their vehicles, to people who are coming in at night and getting up and going to work at 5 a.m. the next day," said Macdonald.
Macdonald says the extreme weather shelters will be open until the cold weather lifts, which isn't expected until at least New Year's Day.
Seniors experiencing homelessness
411 Seniors, an organization providing senior-led programs and advocating for the well-being of people aged 55 and older, says the number of seniors experiencing homelessness has increased since the pandemic began.
"We know seniors who are living in parks, in their cars, who are spending the night at Tim Hortons, living in their storage lockers and are couch surfing. And with the weather extremes, these seniors are at such a disadvantage," said Marion Pollack, who is the board president.
Pollack says the extreme cold weather can further isolate seniors living alone.
"I am a senior and I use a cane and I walk really slow. For me, if my neighbours don't shovel their walks, I can't go anywhere. I am totally homebound, because I am terrified of falling," she said.
Pollack says many seniors rely on the ability to leave their home every day to purchase food or get essential medication.
"Many seniors go shopping everyday for food, because they can't afford a huge grocery bill all at once. And we know a lot of seniors do not have access to the internet, so they can't order food online. If they can't leave their home, chances are they'll go hungry."
Pollack is urging the public to shovel and salt sidewalks near their properties, after a snowfall or period of freezing rain.
In case of a power outage or natural disaster, she says it's important that people check in on their neighbours.