–Britt Santowski, SPN
In spite of earlier hopes for a new emergency weather shelter in Sooke, the dream was not realized. Those in Sooke living rough are still outdoors, in spite of evening temperatures hovering around freezing. According to Sherry Thompson, one of the organizers behind Sooke Shelter Society (a group advocating on behalf of the homeless in Sooke), the number of homeless in Sooke is growing.
“Over the last month, I’ve met ten new homeless [people],” she said, adding that some grew up here and were returning. “Living in their tents is becoming difficult. They are being displaced. Bulldozers are coming in.”
Emergency weather protocols are triggered when wind, rain, and/or cold hits a certain point, and then more beds are added to existing shelters, and (or) shelters specifically intended for emergency weather are opened.
According to a recent Point in Time study, there were that were at least 36 people experiencing homelessness in Sooke the night of March 15, 2018. This number is considered an under-count of the actual extent of homelessness in Sooke, as many (like couch-surfing parents) may be to wary of potential losses to come forward and officially be counted. Of the 36 people surveyed in Sooke:
- 13 (36.1%) identified they were staying in a vehicle (car, van, RV, truck)
- 9 (25.0%) identified they were staying at someone else’s place
- 9 (25.0%) identified they were sleeping in an outdoor location (public space, makeshift shelter, tent, or shack, or another location unfit for human habitation)
According to Rick Robinson, from Sooke Region Communities Health Network and housing advocate, Sooke homeless include women and men. The term “homeless” depends on who is speaking. He knows of some that view themselves, living in an RV or a boat that consider themselves as “housed.” Yet, they lack basic amenities like access to washrooms, showers, heat and laundry. Robinson estimates that there are about 20 to 25 people in Sooke currently sleeping rough.
Sooke came very close to having an extreme weather shelter in place, but that arrangement fell through. In having come that close, though, there are a number of things ready should a place be found, including funding for two staff and an employer, and transportation for those who have need of such a shelter.
Robinson says it’s now up to the community to find the space, and is putting out a call to the community at large to see if someone knows of a suitable space. Ideally, an emergency weather shelter would have the following:
- A heated room ideally with ventilation capable of sleeping at least 10 persons each (3 ft separation – 500 sq ft)
- Electrical outlet for a hot plate to reheat food and make hot drinks
- Storage space for a minimum of 10 sleeping mats and 20 blankets
- Small storage area for fresh, dry clothes
- Access to land phone for staff
- Transportation (van or bus) unless shelter is in downtown core
- Under the nice to have category: on-site showers and washer/dryer
Ideally, Robinson would like to see an emergency weather shelter for extreme weather, a seasonal shelter open for the winter months, and affordable rental units.
“What I would like to see is something better than a shelter,” agrees Thompson, who advocates for the housing-first approach (where housing is the primary need addressed, dealing with addictions and employment and mental health matters follow). She would love to see small compact units in a low-rise somewhere, with built in (or closely accessible) health support and peer support. “That’s where people can start living stable.”
Feel free to contact the Sooke Shelter Society with any leads or tips on an possible location for an emergency weather shelter in Sooke, at (250) 419-3978 or visit them online.
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