Smoky days could persist to Friday; councillor calls for opening of shelters to help homeless

A smoky walk to Victoria City Hall this week has Coun. Jeremy Loveday calling for measures to get the homeless out of the region’s poor-quality air.

“My eyes stung from smoke and I could feel a weight in my lungs,” he said. “I can’t imagine having no indoor respite from some of the worst air quality in the world, like the unhoused residents of our city are currently facing.”

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Loveday is proposing that Victoria council advocate for activating the provincially funded Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol now, rather than just when temperatures drop in the winter, triggering the opening of a network of shelters.

He said the smoky conditions that have persisted in the city for days certainly qualify as extreme. Smoke from wildfires in Washington state, Oregon and California led to the suspension of mail delivery on Vancouver Island and other parts of B.C. on Monday. The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation have called for schools to be closed, saying keeping students inside with windows and doors closed could increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Suspension of mail delivery continued Tuesday in Sooke, Ganges, Duncan and other centres, while the post office said it would do its best to deliver in Greater Victoria, Nanaimo and Parksville.

Environment Canada meteorologist Carmen Hartt said a likely improvement in the smoke is expected by Friday if an anticipated weather system brings showers and a change of wind direction.

The elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with such conditions as asthma are advised to be careful in the current conditions. Hartt said the air quality health index in Victoria reached 10 — a high risk — again Tuesday.

Smoke is not in the forecast for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and all three days are expected to have a mix of sun and cloud.

The smoke could return over the next few weeks, Hartt said.

Loveday said as climate change makes extreme weather more frequent, it’s “both common-sense and compassionate” to ensure everyone has respite from the elements, especially when health effects are involved.

Loveday and Coun. Sarah Potts plan to bring a motion to the committee of the whole meeting on Thursday calling for the Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol to be enacted during any period of extreme weather throughout the year, including when there’s poor air quality.

He said he raised the same issue two years ago during a similar period of smokiness.

“The change hasn’t been made since then, so I thought it was time to do more of a formal advocacy through the City of Victoria.”

Even if the change is made, Loveday said an extended protocol will just be a “Band-Aid” for what is really needed.

“We can’t divorce this discussion or any proposed remedy for the broader need for urgent action to address both the housing and homelessness crisis and the climate crisis,” he said. “This issue clearly sits at the confluence of those two things.”

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