An upcoming cold snap could mean dangerous conditions for homeless people in Burnaby, according to Carol-Ann Flanagan, executive director with the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby. Shutterstock

Upcoming cold weather could spell danger for Burnaby’s homeless, says advocate

The persistent cold temperatures mean a dangerous situation for Burnaby’s homeless population, according to Carol-Ann Flanagan, who’s the executive director of the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby.

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December 23, 2021 | 5:00 am

It’s been a year of weather extremes in BC, from wildfires to floods. Just six months ago, Burnaby experienced a heat dome that shattered temperature highs and took the lives of 63 people in the city.

And before 2021 is over, it looks likely that we’ll come close to the record temperature in the opposite direction.

Meteorologists are predicting several days of snow for the region. And while that means Burnaby could see a rare white Christmas, it also means temperatures far below seasonal norms.

The Weather Network is predicting daytime temperatures between -5 and -10℃ into next week. Overnight temperatures could drop to -15℃ overnight next Wednesday—and with wind chill, it could feel even colder.

Compare that to data from Environment Canada, which shows the daily average temperature in Burnaby was 2.9℃ between 1981 and 2010.

It will also veer relatively close to the coldest temperature ever recorded in Burnaby: -19.4℃ in 1969.

The persistent cold temperatures mean a dangerous situation for Burnaby’s homeless population, according to Carol-Ann Flanagan, who’s the executive director of the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby.

“Last year there were a few cold days. But nothing like we’re about to experience … I have lived in BC for 28 years … but I’ve never seen it go down this low. Ever,” Flanagan told the Beacon.

“We know that many of the homeless [population] have one or two health issues. So I am very worried. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be as destructive as the heat dome was for our population, and for our most vulnerable.”

Flanagan is worried that the extreme temperatures could present a real threat to the lives of people who don’t have a roof over their heads.

While the temperatures we could see next week are normal in many other parts of the country, she said our warmer climate means many people here don’t have the proper winter gear for those conditions.

Not to mention, many homeless people already suffer from one or more chronic health conditions.

“I am worried that there will be some of our vulnerable people that will get hypothermia and will not survive the week outside, unless we can get information out to them about warming centers,” she said.

Hypothermia can easily affect people who are exposed to extremely cold temperatures for a prolonged period, especially if they are not dressed appropriately or are exposed to rain. If a person experiencing hypothermia doesn’t receive immediate medical attention, it can often prove fatal.

The Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby has been receiving small donations of winter coats, sleeping bags, and tents this week and handing them out as people stop by.

There are also several emergency shelters opening in light of the cold weather, including 26 beds at Progressive Housing Society (2294 Douglas Rd), 10 beds at Westminster Bible Chapel (7540 6th St), and 12 beds at Southside Community Church (7135 Walker Ave).

The City of Burnaby has also informed the Beacon that it will announce today the opening of a temporary winter shelter at Bonsor Recreation Complex. That shelter will open this Saturday evening (or earlier if the forecast requires), and remain open each night from 8:30pm-8am as long as the cold weather lasts.

The shelter will operate throughout this winter season when extreme weather responses are activated in Burnaby.

But Flanagan is still worried that there won’t be enough shelter space in Burnaby to get everyone out of the cold and into safety. She’s also concerned that some of the shelters will stay closed for some days over the holidays.

“I had one homeless person who stopped by … And he was asking me if there is anything open? Is any shelter open? Are there any beds available? And I had to say no. I just had to say no, there’s nothing,” she said.

“And now with the new restrictions, even if we were hoping that we’d be able to add more beds to the shelter, back to 40—with these new restrictions, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It’s going to have to stay at 20.”

Flanagan said the COVID restrictions are important because they need to keep homeless people safe and healthy, even when they’re accessing shelter services.

But, she said, there’s no doubt that COVID has made the homelessness situation worse in BC.
The last homeless count in Burnaby took place on March 3, 2020—mere days before the emerging pandemic caused mass shutdowns and closures of nonessential businesses.

That count showed that the number of homeless people in the city had gone up 80% since 2017, to 124. Flanagan is sure the pandemic has made that number go up even higher.

If there’s one thing that’s changed for the better, she said it’s that more people are sympathetic to the plight homeless people find themselves in.

“Because everybody realized with the pandemic and people losing their jobs and everything else, that there are so many people who are close to homelessness, or they are underhoused, because [there’s] not enough affordable housing—that’s something we always try to advocate for.”

Flanagan hopes that new perspective leads people to give whatever they can to alleviate the pressure slightly on those who are struggling. Along with monetary donations, the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby is accepting donations of winter jackets, sleeping bags, and small one- or two-man tents in good condition. Donors can contact Flanagan to set up an appointment.

“We do realize that everybody has been touched by COVID some in some form or another. But at least if you have a roof over your head, and you’re warm, that’s one less threat that COVID can’t take from you,” Flanagan said.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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