As winter shelters close, more face sleeping outside

Many homeless people in Greater Victoria will have no choice but to sleep outside starting next week as extreme weather and winter shelters shut down March 31.

“People come to rely on them and they’re not coming and going,” said Don McTavish, manager of shelters at the Cool Aid Society. “It just underscores the need for more housing in the city.”

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Forty people a night sleep on mats in Cool Aid’s winter shelter, in the basement of the church of St. John the Divine Anglican Church. The shelter was used in 3,939 instances between November and February.

McTavish said the people who used the shelter often would not have had anywhere else to go, as the organization’s three year-round shelters were full and turning people away.

At the Rock Bay Landing shelter, extra mats were put out and the two family units remained occupied. The three shelters can take about 150 people combined a night.

The winter shelters are often used for overflow, McTavish said.

The other additional seasonal shelters are operated as part of the Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol. The program offers shelter and a place to sleep for up to 125 extra people at four locations in the capital region on nights with extreme weather, such as snow, heavy rain or freezing temperatures.

The Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol, which also ends March 31, was activated 34 times this season.

According to the 2013 report, Facing Homelessness by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, at least 1,659 individuals used a shelter in 2013.

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