Imagine for a moment that you are one of the many homeless people in Sooke.
Now imagine the temperature has dropped below freezing and winter has gripped the region.
In Sooke, there is no shelter available and you will be left to your own devices to survive.
It’s a situation Sherry Thompson of the Sooke Shelter Society said is unacceptable and she and a group of volunteers are working to fix the situation.
“There really hasn’t been an extreme weather shelter in Sooke since the Baptist church pulled out of providing the service a few years ago, and we’ve been unable to find another location,” Thompson said.
The group is working with the staff of the Extreme Weather Protocol to try to address the problem.
The protocol is a community program involving various faith groups, social service agencies, fire, and police working together to provide shelter spaces during acute winter weather conditions of heavy wind, snow, rain and temperatures below 0 Celsius.
“I really don’t want to criticize the (Baptist) church, but we need to start the community talking about the situation to recognize that our perception around the homeless and our fears around homelessness are largely unfounded. Those fears are, in part, why we have the problem in the first place,” said Jen Wilde, regional coordinator of the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Response Program.
Those fears and perceptions of the homeless were on full display during the discussions with the Baptist church.
“We approached the church again, but, after a lot of meetings, those discussions ended and the church said they weren’t prepared to take on the project,” said Thompson. “They said that they’d pray for us, but they were concerned about their children. It’s all part of the stigma that the homeless face.”
She was quick to add that not every member of the church council was against opening the church to the homeless during bad weather but that, in the end, concerns about drug and alcohol use won out over the appeals of the shelter society.
“They were willing to consider running it as a high-barrier shelter in which everyone coming in would be searched and their packs would be searched and confiscated until they left. Also, once they (the homeless) checked in, they wouldn’t be allowed to leave until the morning,” said Thompson.
That approach would run counter to the guidelines for such shelters and would severely curtail funding for the project.
Thompson explained that her group has approached other churches in the community as well as organizations such as the legion and the Sooke Community Association, but has been turned down by them all.
“It’s a real shame because I really thought we’d be allowed back into the church and put out a request (to the community) for supplies and we got them all … everything we need. But then it all fell through,” said Thompson.
The Baptist Church did not respond to requests for comment.
Mayor Maya Tait said that she had run a stakeholder’s meeting in September in an effort to find a way to address the situation.
“This situation is really unacceptable. We’re better than this. We need to work together as a community to provide something for those in need in a community as wonderful as Sooke,” said Tait.