EDITORIAL: More extreme weather shelter space needed for both day and night

We’ve been fortunate on the Semiahmoo Peninsula this winter.

Temperatures have, on average, been mild. A couple of snowfalls – so far – have barely impeded us, and ice and snow have soon melted. In the comfort of warm homes – notwithstanding gripes about not being able to travel or see loved ones during the pandemic – most of us have had little to complain about.

But the homeless struggling to survive outdoors – and those who try their best to help them during the ongoing crisis– are painfully aware that we could be just one cold snap away from tragedy.

Last week some managers for Options Community Services, which operates extreme weather shelters at Peace Portal Alliance Church in South Surrey, the Pacific Community Church in Cloverdale and the Ladner United Church, were forced to make one of those tough decisions that happen all-too-often in real life.

As night-time temperatures dropped to a potentially life-threatening -5 C, with warnings of wind-chill values ranging from -10 C to as low as -20 C., they had to choose between flouting COVID-19 distancing protocols or turning clients away at the door.

At Peace Portal Alliance, where 33 people in need showed up at a space supposed to accommodate a pandemic-reduced capacity of 20, they opted to allow everyone to stay – reasoning that the risk of dying outdoors outweighed the risk of contracting COVID.

No one knows where clients are supposed to go once daylight comes – there are no daytime warming centres in Surrey or White Rock.

As a society, we may have been pushed to the limit by the ongoing pandemic – but we still have resources of food and shelter that some can only dream about, and instincts of generosity often made manifest by direct action.

In a situation where such tough choices between evils are made routinely, we should surely be able to make more space available – in unused or underused facilities – to make up for the shortfall created by pandemic restrictions, and ensure that our disadvantaged can be sheltered safely, day or night.

It behooves every local club, church, community organization and level of government to search their resources – and their hearts – to see if they can help provide a solution.


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