Our Home on 8th, the Port Alberni Shelter that opened in March 2019, has 27 extra ‘extreme weather’ spaces for people who need a place to get out of the cold. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Port Alberni’s shelter prepares to house homeless during upcoming cold snap

Environment Canada is forecasting sub-zero weather and possible flurries for Vancouver Island

The Port Alberni Shelter Society is prepared for cold weather next week, offering extra beds for people living on the street.

Executive director Wes Hewitt activated the extreme weather response in November after looking at December’s forecast, and said he hasn’t deactivated it. Environment Canada is forecasting sub-zero temperatures for Port Alberni the week of Jan. 13–16 with the possibility of more snow.

BC Housing’s Extreme Weather Response (EWR) program provides individuals and families in need with access to a warm, dry place to sleep during extreme weather conditions between the beginning of November and the end of March.

Each community decides on a local basis when to issue an Extreme Weather Alert based on current conditions and local forecasts determining when locations will be open and the number of spaces available. There is an Extreme Weather Response Shelter map available showing locations of shelters throughout the province.

“In previous years we’ve operated 15 spaces,” he said, which are above and beyond those already offered at the shelter. “It looked like the 15 weren’t going to be enough this year in December, so BC Housing and ourselves got together and upped our capacity by 12.”

That means the shelter on Eighth Avenue, called Our Home on 8th, can offer 27 additional beds for people to get out of the cold.

The sobering site on Fifth Avenue, at Phoenix House, has an additional four beds—these are operated by Island Health, Hewitt said.

“At night the extra beds are open. During the day the OPS (overdose prevention site) and outreach site on Third Avenue is open and people are welcome to go there.”

The homelessness count that was conducted in 2018 noted there were 147 people without homes in Port Alberni, Hewitt said. BC Housing will fund a new homelessness count in spring 2020, he added.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said Director of Parks, Recreation and Heritage Willa Thorpe will coordinate with the shelter society, Salvation Army, Canadian Mental Health Association and Island Health “in regards to plans being put in place to provide warming centres for those that need it.”

She noted in a social media post that she has also asked the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, which looks after emergency response for the region, to contact the province for a task number for any expenses the city might incur.

Hewitt said a ‘warming centre’ such as those that open in larger cities are fine for urban centres, but probably wouldn’t work in Port Alberni. “I don’t think designating a building as a warming centre will see the usage that it would in Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary, or city centres like that,” he said.

There are public buildings open during the day like the Bread of Life on Third Avenue, Echo Centre and the library where people can go and warm up, he said.

“It’s been many years since we’ve had a fatality due to weather or hypothermia, and that fatality happened in August.”


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