Emergency Weather Response Leads To More Shelter Talk

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When temperatures plunged below the -20-degree-C mark between Boxing Day and New Year’s last December, Whistler did something it had never done before: opened an overnight emergency shelter at the Whistler Public Library. The shelter was activated for six nights and jointly facilitated by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS). A total of 19 people sought refuge in that time, according to the RMOW, or about six occupants per night, according to WCSS.

“After that, we started meeting as a group again, and saying, ‘That was really successful [and] much needed in the community,’” explained WCSS executive director Jackie Dickinson, “‘and with the impacts of climate change and the increase of precariously-housed individuals in our community, how can we work together and what can we do to continue this type of initiative moving forward?’”

The result is the RMOW’s new Extreme Cold Weather Shelter Plan (ECWSP), approved by mayor and council for use at the Whistler Public Library (WPL) as needed from now until March 31, 2023.

The RMOW will activate the plan whenever Environment Canada issues a cold weather warning for the resort, more specifically when temperatures reach at least -20 C with the wind chill for a minimum of six hours, or -35 C for at least two hours. The shelter was activated for the first time on Wednesday night, Nov. 30, as overnight temperatures in Whistler were predicted to hit -23 C with the wind chill.

Based on Whistler’s typical weather patterns, RMOW staff expect to see the EWSP activated once or twice over the course of the winter, tallying up to about 10 nights each year. Funds for the shelter will come from Emergency Management BC.

As bitter temperatures settled into the Sea to Sky this week, Dickinson was working diligently to find a warm, safe space where any local who needs one can spend the night, even when conditions don’t meet that threshold. For the WCSS, that -20 C threshold is too high to leave Whistler’s more vulnerable community members out in the cold. The organization is currently working with BC Housing to establish another emergency shelter this winter that will activate when temperatures instead reach -10 C. The issue? WCSS hasn’t been able to lock in a location. Read the full article here.