British Columbia’s winter shelter system hits breaking point as operators pull out, citing lack of funding and staff
Several shelter operators in British Columbia say they are reaching a breaking point, citing a lack of funding and staffing, and are calling on the province to come up with a better plan to keep people warm through the winter.
Emergency winter shelters in British Columbia are funded by BC Housing and operated by non-profit organizations in all communities.
But this year, several cities had to scramble to come up with a plan after nonprofits opted out of managing winter shelters as temperatures dipped below freezing.
Victoria City Council on Thursday voted to operate nighttime warming centers after the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which typically runs a winter shelter, said it did not have the funding to do so.
“We decided that if we couldn’t do the job the way we planned, we had to make other kinds of decisions,” Sylvia Ceacero, the coalition’s executive director, told CBC News.
With one less shelter in the area, other shelters were sold out and some said they had to turn people away due to a lack of space.
WATCH | Victoria shelter operator says more beds are needed
“There aren’t enough shelter beds,” said Grant McKenzie, spokesman for the nonprofit Our Place Society. “We turn away between 15 and 20 people every night.”
McKenzie says Our Place is not participating in the extreme weather or winter shelter program because it has been unable to find staff.
That sentiment is echoed by Ron Rice, chief executive of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, who says shelter staffing has been an issue since June.
Rice said the center tried to repost jobs with higher salaries, without success.
“We’ve got the bedroom, we’ve got double mattresses, we’ve got new blankets, we’ve got laundry facilities and showers, and a lot of people want to stay here, but we don’t have staff,” Rice said.
In Kamloops, the organization that traditionally runs two winter shelters withdrew its support for the programciting disappointment with municipal and provincial efforts to provide housing for those in need, and a lack of support for their staff.
As a result, there was a week-long delay in opening a winter shelter as the city sought a new operator.
This was followed by an open letter from leaders of six other shelter operators in the Okanagan and Thompson region of British Columbia, demanding longer-term solutions for people experiencing homelessness.
“The cycle of bringing in…people from the cold, sheltering them in the most basic temporary shelters, providing the fewest supports, making limited investments in health, skills and real housing, and then taking to the streets on the first day of spring with a tent and wishes has become an exercise in futility at best,” they said in the 2,000-word letter.
“While this may provide an escape from the cold, it is a sickening and aimless proposition to consider this as a solution to the humanitarian crisis we face.”
Sara Goldvine, spokesperson for BC Housing, said that when it comes to additional shelters put in place during extreme weather events, it is up to municipalities and their partners to create and operate spaces, while BC Housing provides the financing.
She added that she agrees shelters are not a permanent solution.
“Ultimately our goal is to move people to permanent housing.”