With snow and frosty temperatures expected to dip as low as a frigid -10 C on the weekend, the welcome mats are being rolled out at both the North Shore Shelter & Housing Centre and North Shore Neighbourhood House.
The extreme weather program, which offers meals and a warm place to sleep for those experiencing homelessness, has already been in operation on the North Shore more than 40 nights since the beginning of November, said Shayne Williams, CEO of the Lookout Housing and Health Society, which runs the North Vancouver shelter, along with several shelters throughout the Lower Mainland.
“We have a very terrible cold blast coming up,” he said, and outreach workers will be encouraging those who are sleeping rough outside, sleeping in their cars or camping in the bush to come inside.
"We're seeing a lot of people on the North Shore who will live precariously in their vehicle if evicted and then there's an awful lot of camping . . . there's a lot of places where people can stay in a tent and try to live a little bit off the radar," he said.
In addition to regular shelter beds, which since the start of the pandemic have also included provincially-funded rooms in local motels, the extreme weather program offers 10 extra sleeping mats at the shelter at 704 2nd St. in North Vancouver and 12 mats at North Shore Neighbourhood House at 225 East 2nd St. for those seeking refuge from the elements.
Once people come inside for the night, staff aim to connect them with other services to help address their long-term situation, said Williams.
"Sometimes being able to provide hot food and coffee goes a long way to being able to broker a conversation," he said.
But the main goal remains keeping people alive in periods of bitter cold.
“Already we’ve seen quite a few people,” said Williams.
There have been more than 260 “sleeps” logged so far this season on the North Shore under the extreme weather program which began Nov. 1 and operates whenever weather conditions are deemed hazardous to those living outside.
Throughout the Lower Mainland, Lookout has provided 1,889 "sleeps" since Nov. 1, said Williams.
Those who use the program are required to give their names so contacts can be notified in the event of a COVID exposure.
On Thursday, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth warned that "periods of heavy and blowing snow, freezing rain and very cold weather are likely in most parts of B.C." in the coming days.
Farnworth said province-wide, the government is providing more than 1,900 temporary shelter spaces, and nearly 360 extreme weather shelter spaces – a 25% increase in the numbers of shelters over last year, to supplement 2,250 permanent year-round shelter spaces.
Farnworth said both outreach workers and police will provide information and encourage those living outside to make use of extreme weather response shelters.
He also urged the general public to prepare to protect their families and vulnerable friends and neighbours by packing emergency supplies of food, water and warm clothes if travelling by car, and paying close attention to weather forecasts and road closure notices.