Vancouver city officials are preparing to issue a cold weather alert as early as Friday morning, but a cut in provincial funding means the city’s homeless people will still have to make do with fewer shelters this winter.
The city’s Extreme Weather Response Program (EWRP) is ready to open temporary shelters, which offer 238 beds, when the temperature drops to -2 C.
But the program expects extra pressure without the province’s four Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) shelters in operation.
“It doesn't look like this one will be opening this winter," said Sean Spear, of RainCity Housing in Gastown, one of the shelters now not funded.
Last winter, RainCity’s 40 beds were always occupied.
"I have people stopping me on the street and asking me every day, ‘Are those shelters going to be open,’" said Spear.
The provincial government has said the 160 beds that had been available in HEAT facilities aren't needed anymore because 300 new social housing units have opened up.
Some of the city’s homeless find fault with that logic. “Some people ain’t going to find places to stay,” said Glen, a homeless man who declined to give his surname. “It's just going to get cold and people ain’t going to be able to take it.”
More shelters closing
Irene Jaakson, who coordinates the EWRP, said Thursday she expects an overflow situation.
"I expect that the Extreme Weather Program is going to take a bit of a hit because of the absence of those 160 winter response beds."
It's a crisis, said Judy Graves, the city's advocate for the homeless.
"It is, of course, a life and death situation," Graves said. “When I'm out in the street in weather like this, it is harder to get someone who's fallen asleep to wake up because they're mildly hypothermic."
Graves said the city will continue to press the province for money for more shelter beds. Three of the original HEAT shelters that opened in 2008 are still operating, but the province plans to close one each year for the next three years.