Record cold temperatures raises concerns for the unsheltered | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Record cold temperatures raises concerns for the unsheltered

Port Alberni, BC

Vancouver Island is facing record-setting freezing temperatures, raising concerns for the safety of the homeless population.

On Thursday, Jan. 11, the first night of the cold snap, bone chilling temperatures began dropping before sunset. By 7 p.m. Port Alberni’s warming centres were offering hot drinks and a place to get out of the bitter cold, but people were still milling around on the streets with the temperature at minus 3 C. By morning, the temperature dropped to minus 10 C with wind chill factoring in at minus 19 C, according to local weather reports.

Weather forecasters said Jan. 12 was expected to be the coldest day ever for Vancouver Islanders, with temperatures falling well below freezing levels along with wind chill that will make it feel like minus 21 C.

The Port Alberni Shelter Society (PASS) provides food, housing, clothing, recovery programs and employment opportunities to individuals experiencing homelessness. It operates The Bread of Life warming centre at 3130 Third Avenue.

They are now open 24 hours as an Extreme Weather Response Centre. On Jan. 11, the Bread of Life remained open past their usual closing time of 9 p.m. They offered hot drinks and light snacks and a warm place to sit down. They opened their 24 emergency shelter beds and a spokesperson said they had a few more mats that could be used should the beds fill up.

Jacquie Dennis of Huu-ay-aht lives in Anacla, but that doesn’t stop her from doing what she can to help the unhoused people of Port Alberni.

“We have a free store here at home (Bamfield) and I pick through it for sweaters, jackets, blankets, scarves,” Dennis told Ha-Shilth-Sa. “I take it home, wash it and bag it up.”

On cold nights like Jan. 11, Dennis travels the 90 kilometres from Bamfield to Port Alberni, at her own expense, and distributes the items she’s collected.

On the evening of the 11th, Dennis and her cousin Mary Lou arrived at the parking lot behind the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) where they offered bowls of soup, hot chocolate and warm clothing.

“We had 32 bowls of soup and it all went,” said Dennis.

She was sad to say that they ran out of warm jackets so the team, joined by Rita Watts of Tseshaht, launched a clothing drive to collect more jackets to distribute on Friday. Dennis also posted on social media that she would head to the dollar store to buy gloves, socks and scarves. Some people offered cash donations to support the effort.

PASS thanks Jacquie and her teammates for the volunteer work they do. Both Dennis and PASS are asking for donations of gently used blankets, jackets, sweaters, socks, toques, and scarves.

Go to the Port Alberni Shelter Society website to learn more. Donations are being accepted at the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) located at 3699 3rd Ave. The OPS is open seven days a week from 8 am – 8 pm.

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