Homeless shelters full as temperatures drop
Published Monday, January 3, 2011 1:53PM PST
With all homeless shelters in Vancouver already at capacity, Monday's snowfall warning means that people could be left outside in freezing temperatures and up to 10 centimetres of snow.
But Irene Jackson, coordinator of the Extreme Weather Response Program, says that the risk of the city's homeless being turned away from shelters isn't the real problem.
"We need to talk less about people being turned away from shelters and spend more time talking about why so many people require shelters in the first place," she said.
Homeless people looking for a place to stay tonight, however, could be out of luck.
The Belkin House, a homeless shelter in downtown Vancouver, has a waiting list of 12 people. All other shelters in Vancouver -- most of which are first-come, first-served -- are already full.
Another shelter in east Vancouver had to stop accepting people because of an outbreak of Norwalk virus. An employee at St. Elizabeth's Home told ctvbc.ca they are allowing those already affected to stay, but are turning everyone else away.
When the weather gets particularly severe, the Extreme Weather Response Program issues an alert that allows existing shelters to temporarily accept more people.
In addition, Jackson said that churches and community centres that don't normally act as shelters will put mats on the floors of their common space.
"It's an all hands on deck situation," she said. "I'm optimistic that nobody is going to be turned away."
In the long-term, Jackson says that resources need to be diversified in order to end homelessness.
"We spend a lot of our time and energy on resources in the Downtown Eastside and there isn't a good geographic balance," she said. "There aren't enough programs for people who can't or shouldn't go to the Downtown Eastside."
Jackson suggests that different types of transitional housing that provide various levels of support are needed throughout Metro Vancouver.
"Homelessness is not a choice -- it's about the absence of choice," she said. "The dialogue needs to change to the need for longer term supportive housing that is accessible and affordable."