Winter has arrived in the Victoria region. With temperatures dropping to zero and below, many of our thoughts turn to those without a warm, safe place to sleep. In response, the Greater Victoria’s Extreme Weather Protocol (EWP) has started for the season (on November 1). We took the opportunity to sit down with EWP Coordinator, Jen Bacon, to learn more about the program.
For those sleeping rough in Greater Victoria, the Island’s wet, cold winters pose a serious threat to their health and safety. Jen, points out, that the damp chill is extremely challenging to deal with, not to mention if you are already suffering from “extenuating health circumstances” such as bronchitis.
Extreme Weather Protocol is an emergency response program “developed to meet the needs of our homeless population during extreme weather events.” In addition to the 175 shelter beds available year round in Victoria, 90 seasonal beds open up for the winter and under EWP tier 2 activation, 105 temporary shelter mats are provided.
EWP temporary shelters are opened on a night-by-night basis at Our Place, the Salvation Army, and the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. Every day at 11:00am the EWP coordinator assesses the 24 hour Environment Canada forecast and uses the set weather criteria to determine if EWP can be activated. Thereafter, the weather is continuously monitored and in the event of unexpected extreme weather EWP will be activated regardless of the time of day. This year, due to a shuffling of resources, EWP has been able to change the activation temperature criteria from -2 to -1.
Greater Victoria EWP weather criteria:
- Temperatures near zero with rainfall that makes it difficult or impossible for homeless people to remain dry; and/or
- Sleet/freezing rain; and/or
- Snow accumulation; and/or
- Sustained high winds; and/or
- Temperatures at or below -1 Celsius
EWP started in 2004 as a last minute response to severe weather conditions. During an extreme cold snap, the Silver Threads Community building was used to as a temporary emergency shelter. Soon after, many community organizations came together to develop a comprehensive and effective emergency weather response plan. Thanks to funding by BC Housing EWP has activated 465 times over the last 9 years.
Over 150 individuals of organizations throughout the Greater Victoria area are notified via email when EWP is activated and each organization has its own method of relaying the message to the street community—“word of mouth on the street is really the best way of getting information to clients.”
Bacon asserts that EWP has a “zero turn away policy.” Whether it is a detox bed or a mat in a shelter across town, EWP workers will do everything they can to find shelter spaces and ensure that no one is left to endure harsh weather conditions on the street overnight. Furthermore, the EWP passenger van travels around from nine until midnight offering transportation to shelters with available space.
While EWP emergency shelters are mainly located in the downtown core, EWP coordinator, Jen Bacon works to meet the needs of individuals in outlying regions such as the Westshore and even Salt Spring Island through what she calls “creative problem solving.” Donated bus tickets for transportation to EWP shelters are dropped off at crisis centers and food banks. On nights of EWP activation, Bacon has personally arranged ferry and bus transportation for individuals from outlying communities to a shelter bed in Victoria.
This year, the community of Sooke has come together to provide 5 shelter spaces in the Sooke Baptist Church.
What you can do to help…
Through the Canadian Red Cross, EWP volunteers are trained in disaster management. Volunteers help to prepare the shelters and direct the clients. To volunteer for Extreme Weather Protocol please contact Garry Carleton at the Canadian Red Cross 250-382-2043.
EWP accepts donations of socks, hats, mitts, and other winter gear items that are essential to surviving the season while experiencing homelessness. To donate you can contact Jen Bacon directly at 250-896-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.