Cold weather is on the way, and while many people are bundling up for the winter season ahead, some might not be able to. Each year, members of the community need a little extra help around this time of year to keep warm.
Businesses and individuals have been very generous in donating jackets, mitts and warm clothing each year, Port Alberni Shelter Society administrator Wes Hewitt said. When the weather gets cold, Hewitt and staff at the shelter notice an influx of visitors searching for a warm bed. "It has been a strong year all year round, but yes, we will see a little more of an increase here," Hewitt said.
On Nov. 1, B.C. Housing will release funding for "extreme weather beds," which means the number of people able to stay at the local shelter will increase. The new number accommodates the influx of visitors expected, and lasts until March. If weather continues to be extremely cold or miserable after March, B.C. Housing will adjust the funding to ensure people are kept under a roof with a warm bed.
"It is not a line in the sand. It is based on needs," Hewitt said. An Extreme Weather Response program funds community-based services to provide temporary emergency shelter spaces. RCMP is given the legal capacity to assist individuals in finding housing during extreme weather as well, Hewitt explained.
"B.C. Housing, what they do is they fund a whole program that expands capacity of beds in the province to deal with increased demand in the winter time," Hewitt said. "The last thing B.C. Housing wants to see, or we want to see, or anyone in the community wants to see, is someone losing their life or in distress in bad weather."
Although the number of people going into the shelter has been steady all year, Hewitt said the summer time is easier for people to fare when they are homeless because of the warmth. "In the summer time, it's a little bit easier, but in the winter time, it gets cold and wet here," he said.
Each year, Hewitt and the shelter experiences an outpouring of support from people in Port Alberni. Businesses and individuals pull together to provide clothing, warmth and comfort for less fortunate citizens during the winter months. Every year, the shelter staff and volunteers hope to gather enough winter jackets, mitts, socks, underwear and toiletries to support the people staying there.