People who are homeless should be able to access emergency sheltering outside of the winter months, says Coun. Jeremy Loveday. (Black Press Media file photo)

Homeless need respite from wildfire smoke, says Victoria councillor

Councillor pushes for year-round emergency shelter access

A Victoria councillor wants to see the province’s Extreme Weather Response (EWR) program extended for year-round operation.

On Thursday, Victoria city council will consider Coun. Jeremy Loveday’s motion asking the mayor to write a letter to the province advocating for the EWR to be expanded outside the current Nov. 1 to March 31 time frame.

As wildfires burn in the U.S. and smoke blankets the region, Loveday said the emergency response needs to be available during extreme weather other than snow and cold.

“Walking to city hall yesterday, my eyes stung from the smoke and I could feel a dirty weight in my lungs,” he said. “I can’t imagine not having an indoor respite from some of the worst air quality in the world like the unhoused residents of Victoria are currently facing.”

READ ALSO: Victoria council adopts bylaw restricting placement, size of tents

Victoria city staff estimate that hundreds of people are still living outside in Victoria, an impact, in part, of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread shelter closures.

Victoria has had a ‘very high’ air quality health index forecast for several days, with smoke expected to last in the region until at least Thursday. The B.C. government recommends avoiding strenuous outdoor activities and physical exertion, particularly for children and the elderly.

“That’s impossible to do if your only access to shelter is a tent in a park,” Loveday said. “As the forest fires and smoke season becomes an annual occurrence and climate change is making the frequency and severity of extreme weather more common, we need to take adaptive measures.

“I think expanding the EWR is the common sense and compassionate thing to do.”

Loveday said an arrangement to accommodate COVID-19 precautions would have to be worked out in the short-term, but the EWR has been in place long before COVID-19 and will outlast it too.

Loveday’s recommendation will be heard during the committee of the whole meeting on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Homeless will not be asked to take down tents during COVID-19 pandemic: Victoria Mayor


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