Responders to the rescue when mercury plunges

When snow, sub-zero temperatures, rain, or harsh winds hit the Valley, many of us curl up with a hot cup of coffee and a good book.

Thankfully, a dedicated group of organizations maintain emergency housing for the homeless.

The combination of extreme cold and driving wet rain or snow can pose a threat to the health and safety of our vulnerable homeless population. Five years ago, this concern brought the Extreme Weather Response (EWR) into effect in the Comox Valley.

The Comox Valley’s extreme weather shelter beds are funded

through BC Housing’s Extreme Weather Response Program. This provincial program enables communities to temporarily increase emergency shelter capacity.

These program funds are limited to extreme weather from Nov. 1

to March 31. The Assistance to Shelter Act, which became law in

B.C. in 2009, gives the RCMP the ability to assist a homeless person on the street during an extreme weather situation by bringing them to a shelter or connecting them with a shelter worker.

EWR’s temporary Extreme Weather Shelter is operated through the Salvation Army’s year-round emergency shelter on Pidcock Avenue in Courtenay.

Additional beds are made available when the Extreme Weather Response is activated. This helps ensure that safe overnight housing happens quickly, and in a way that people lacking

transportation or social skills can easily access its service.

When the EWR is activated, the message is fanned out to the many

organizations throughout the Valley in contact with homeless individuals. It is also posted on the EWR website at

These organizations include the RCMP, St. Joseph's Hospital, the Salvation Army, CV Transition Society, Canadian Red Cross, AIDS Vancouver Island, the Wachiay Friendship Centre, the Northgate Foursquare Church and Cold Weather Outreach.

Last year, with the increased number of high-wind days in March, the wind chill dropped well below zero and the EWR was called several days. When the sun was shining during the day, the wind whipped wildly at night; it was a busy time for the three volunteers

who daily tried to predict the weather and the need to activate or deactivate EWR’s status.

During the 2011-2012 winter season, 164 EWR bed nights were catalogued during the 80 days that EWR was called (up from 51 days the previous year). The average nightly stay was 2.1 persons.

Separate from EWR, the year-round Pidcock House Emergency Shelter has 11 beds for men and six beds for women. It also has a welcoming dining room where breakfast and supper is served.

The Comox Valley’s Extreme Weather Response shelter can take up to 30 persons aged 19 and older. Overflow from the Salvation Army shelter have previously been housed at the Northgate Foursquare Church). Minors, under the age of 19 must be referred to the Ministry of Children and Families.

Due to the cold weather circumstances that led to providing Extreme Weather Shelter beds, clients are not asked to leave without offering an alternative shelter option when EWR is in effect.

— Comox Valleyʼs Extreme Weather Protocol

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