A warm winter for homeless people

Temporary warming shelters could be a solution as winter arrives early


By Chris Harcourt

Non-profits are opening temporary warming shelters as temperatures drop in Vancouver.

The Lower Mainland is expected to get its first significant snowstorm of the season on Tuesday. The City of Vancouver has created extreme weather response shelters and warming centres to keep homeless people warm during the winter months, and local agencies are stepping up to provide similar services.

Non-profit organizations to the rescue

The Lookout Society, a charitable organization and social safety net, provides an extreme weather response shelter between October and April with the help of the Langara Family YMCA facility near Langara College on West 49th Avenue.

Michael Utley, membership supervisor of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, said they provide the space for the shelter. “The Lookout Society actually comes in, they have access to our building they got keys, they got the alarm code. It opens during extreme rain, wind, snow or when it feels like zero degrees Celsius,” he said.

“They set up their program which is basically the … mats and blankets and they also provide food for the participants that are coming in.”

The struggle for homeless people

Stanley Q. Woodvine, a homeless man with a blog who used to work as an illustrator and graphic designer, said he is concerned for the other homeless people in the Fairview area.

“Shopping carts and buggies and bins full of personal possessions would, I knew, be immovable in the snow,” he said.

Woodvine said his strategies were to beg, borrow or improvise with a shovel so he could clear the sidewalk in front of him when there was heavy snow.

The Vancouver Odd Fellows is the only agency in Fairview that has a temporary extreme weather response shelter to help people escape harsh winters. Because of temperatures needing to drop below -5 C for this shelter to open, they are opening irregularly compared to other shelters, according to Walter Wells, volunteer at Vancouver Odd Fellows.

“When we do open the first couple of nights are often slow, because people don’t know and there aren’t that many homeless people in Fairview, I mean there’s no shelter. So, we are really valuable, we’ve learned,” he said.

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