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Staffing shortages limit availability of extreme-weather shelter spaces

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Tents along Pandora Avenue, where some people have been sleeping outdoors despite heavy rain. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Staffing shortages are making it difficult to open spaces where people can stay warm and dry during periods of extreme weather in Greater Victoria, including heavy rains in recent days.

A 30-bed space in downtown Victoria’s Salvation Army is the only extreme-weather shelter site confirmed in the region. The shelter has enough staff to manage opening for a night or two, but they need additional staff if they’re going to operate for longer, said Jeffrey Baergen, executive director of the Salvation Army in Victoria.

The shelter spaces weren’t opened Sunday during a rainstorm that battered the region and much of the province. The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which activates and co-ordinates the region’s extreme-weather-response protocol, wasn’t aware the Salvation Army had acquired enough staff to open, as it’s been a struggle for many organizations, said Janine Theobald, inclusion and collaboration manager for the coalition.

The coalition needs to know people will be on hand to open the doors before they send people to a shelter, she said.

“It’s just a day-to-day process. And now they’re at the stage where they do feel confident to open and we’re all on the same page moving forward,” said Nina Grossman, communications co-ordinator for the coalition.

The coalition is hoping to add more shelters that can be activated during extreme weather, and spaces do exist, but a lack of staff means they can’t be opened. They’re appealing to anyone interested in casual work in shelters to apply.

“I think we can all tell and we see just how cold, how rainy, how wet and windy it is outside that this is not a condition that anyone should have to sleep outside in,” Grossman said. “We absolutely want to make sure that we’re prioritizing these spaces and having spaces for people to go.”

The City of Victoria has also been working on warming centres that would be open during the day to fill gaps in the existing extreme weather response protocol, which opens spaces overnight.

Locations need to be confirmed, as well as details around funding and staffing, said city spokesman Bill Eisenhauer.

The showers at Our Place Society were busy Monday morning with people trying to warm up, said Grant McKenzie, communications director for the charity. There was high demand for dry clothing as people came to the drop-in centre to escape the heavy rain.

In the courtyard, people could hang up wet sleeping bags and tents, hoping to dry them before night. People gathered under shelters and around heaters to keep warm, McKenzie said.

The charity is short on socks, underwear and towels and is seeking donations, he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com