Cold weather shelters are opening in Greater Victoria as the temperature cools. A new service provided through bc211 will provide real-time information on where shelter beds are available in the city. (Lauren Boothby/VICTORIA NEWS)

United Way, bc211 activate shelter bed helpline and real-time list for Greater Victoria

Street community, service providers can access interactive map to find open shelter spaces

As Victoria’s extreme weather protocol comes into effect, United Way Greater Victoria and bc211 will be helping more people in the region find a warm place to sleep.

On the heels of a successful release in the Lower Mainland, a new shelter and street helpline was announced today and will be available here through bc211. The resource will provide real-time assistance to help people affected by homelessness find shelter for the night.

Jen Wilde, regional co-ordinator for the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Response Plan, said she is grateful to United Way for funding the program for the Capital Region.

“I look forward to alleviating the struggle of calling multiple resources to determine which facility would be right or accessible for those seeking emergency shelter services,” she said. “[The helpline] is a resource that just makes sense, both to the clients we serve and front line service providers who are trying to advocate for them.”

BC211 staff will call the 10 shelters, including year-round, seasonal and emergency shelters in Greater Victoria, twice daily and publish the bed and mat availability as an online PDF and on an interactive map. Both services are mobile-friendly. This information also gives front line shelter staff and police access to information to help locate available beds.

“You can look at things in real time throughout the day, so for the police, they encounter people on the street, they are able to pull something up on their phone or … [looking at the interactive map] … they will be able to see what’s available,” said United Way Greater Victoria CEO Patricia Jelinski. “Or they can just simply call standing there in the street and say, ‘hey, 211 what’s available, where can we send somebody?’”

VicPD Chief Const. Del Manak noted that his officers often are faced with helping steer people toward community resources beyond what they can offer themselves. He said the shelter and street helpline gives police another valuable tool to ensure people in need are connected to the help they need in times of crisis. On top of the other assistance provided by bc211 – finding housing or locating an addictions counsellor, for example – it will help free up officers’ time to attend other high-priority calls, he added.

READ: United Way Greater Victoria embarks on ambitious multi-year campaign

United Way made the announcement of the new service on Thank You Thursday, noting that the addition of this function to the bc211 service was made possible through the generosity of United Way donors.

Anyone looking to locate the nearest available bed, as well as which shelters allow carts and/or pets and are wheelchair accessible, can call or text 211 to speak with an agent 24/7, in 160 languages.

The interactive map can be found at streetmessenger.io/map, or the regularly updated PDF can be downloaded at shelters.bc211.ca/bc211shelters.

For more information about United Way or to donate, visit uwgv.ca or call 250-385-6708.

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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