British Columbia

B.C.'s winter shelter system hits breaking point as operators back out, citing lack of funding, staff

Multiple shelter operators say they are unable to run a winter shelter this year due to a lack of funding and staff. They are calling on the province to come up with a better plan to keep people warm during the winter.

Shelters say 'cycle' of bringing in people from cold, letting them out by spring 'an exercise in futility'

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness said they have decided not to co-ordinate the extreme weather shelters this year due to 'funding that was not available to [them].' (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Multiple shelter operators in B.C. say they are hitting 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 during the winter.

Emergency winter shelters in the province are funded through B.C. Housing and run by non-profit organizations across communities.

But as temperatures plunged below zero for the first time this fall, several cities have been left scrambling to come up with a plan after non-profits opted out of running winter shelters, with many of them citing a lack of staff.

On Thursday, Victoria city council voted to step in and operate night-time warming centres, after some shelters in the city reported having to turn people away due to a lack of space.

"There are not enough shelter beds," said Grant McKenzie, spokesperson for the non-profit Our Place Society. "We turn away between 15 to 20 people every night."

McKenzie says Our Place isn't taking part in the extreme weather or winter shelter program because it hasn't been able to find staff.

WATCH | Victoria shelter operator says more beds needed:

Shelter operator says Victoria needs more warm spaces for the winter

3 months ago
Duration 0:18
With cold weather setting in, Grant McKenzie of the Our Place shelter says they are having to turn people away due to lack of space.

That sentiment is echoed by Ron Rice, executive director at Victoria Native Friendship Centre, who says staffing shelters has been an issue since June.

Rice said the centre has tried re-posting job ads with higher wages — to no luck.

"We have the room, we have full-size mattresses, we've got new blankets, we've got laundry facilities and shower facilities and a lot of people wanting to stay here, but we have no staff," said Rice.

'Humanitarian crisis'

In Kamloops, the organization that has traditionally run two winter shelters withdrew support for the program, citing disappointment in municipal and provincial efforts to provide housing for people who need it, 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 searched for a new operator.

Many who are homeless in Victoria, B.C. are left without options to keep warm overnight, as shelters report having to turn people away due to a lack of space. (Kathyrn Marlow/CBC)

That was followed by an open letter from the leaders of six other shelter operators across B.C.'s Okanagan and Thompson region, demanding more long-term solutions for people living with homelessness.

"The cycle of bringing ... persons in from the cold, to shelter them in the most basic of temporary shelters, to provide the barest of supports, to make limited investment in health, skills and real housing and then to have them exited back to the streets on the first day of spring with a tent and well wishes has become an exercise in futility at best," they said in the 2,000-word letter.

"While it may provide an escape from the cold, it is a sickeningly purposeless proposition to consider this a solution to the humanitarian crisis we are facing."

Sara Goldvine, spokesperson for B.C. Housing, says when it comes to additional shelters set up during extreme weather events, it is up to municipalities and their partners to set up and operate spaces, while B.C. Housing provides the funding.

She added that she agrees shelters are not a permanent solution.

"Ultimately our goal is to move people into permanent housing."

With files from Christina Jung, On The Island, CBC Kamloops and CHEK News

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