More shelter beds mean fewer will be left out in the cold in Greater Victoria

Greater Victoria’s extreme weather response program has opened more shelter beds for homeless people as overnight temperatures continue to dip below freezing.

Jen Wilde, regional co-ordinator, said 410 beds were available Tuesday night — including 85 mats added at various locations as part of the extreme weather program.

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Wilde activated the program Monday at the start of a cold snap that is expected to last through the week.

“There’s plenty of space still available for people that are wanting to access [a bed],” she said. “We have loads of room.”

Environment Canada said temperatures have dropped in recent days, in part due to clear skies that are forecast to last until Saturday.

“Clear skies certainly help in losing radiation throughout the night,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Armel Castellan. “So the temperatures can go down all the way to freezing, for sure.

“We are three, four degrees almost below normal for this time of year.”

Overnight temperatures have crept below -2 C this week. They are expected to rise to 3 C or 4 C over the weekend, when it is expected to rain.

The region’s extreme weather protocol was developed in 2004 after the city used the Silver Threads building to house people during a severe cold spell.

Police and fire departments, social service agencies, municipal governments and churches now work together to expand the number of shelter spaces from 365 beds to as many as 465 if needed. The names and locations of the shelters can be found on the program’s website at vewp.net.

Wilde said strong winds, excessive amounts of rain and freezing temperatures can trigger the program.

“This program is activated on a daily basis,” she said. “Daily, I look to the weather and I determine whether or not we need to be activated for that night.”

The program’s annual report shows it was activated 43 times last winter.

Wilde said one of the keys to the program’s success is the involvement of so many community partners. That means “it’s not falling on any one agency or one organization to support this emergency response,” she said. “What we’re doing is more akin to what the Red Cross would do in the event of an earthquake.”

Wilde said the program always needs warm weather gear such as tuques, sweaters, jackets, blankets and sleeping bags. Donations can be dropped off at the member service agencies, including the Salvation Army, the Cool Aid Society’s Rock Bay Landing shelter and Our Place Society.

lkines@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Jeff Bell

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