Vancouver’s homeless shelters full as temperatures drop

“Right now is the most dangerous time for people experiencing homelessness,” says shelter spokesperson

Photo of two men drinking coffe. Vancouver's homeless population

A Union Gospel Mission worker pours coffee for a man. Photo: Supplied by Union Gospel Mission

The shelters are at full capacity in Vancouver and Fraser Valley as temperatures in B.C. plummet. This dramatic drop in temperature is especially harsh for Vancouver’s homeless population.

This means there is significant danger to the homeless population, according to those who work at centres that provide shelter and warm clothing.

“We have been seeing that the shelters are continually full throughout the year. Right now there’s more emergency shelters but we are still turning people away the last few nights,” said spokesperson Rachael Allen from the Union Gospel Mission on East Hastings.

“Right now is probably the most dangerous time for those experiencing homelessness who live outside. Folks who are sleeping outside … don’t usually expect these sorts of temperatures,” said Allen.

man crosses street in Vancouver
Vancouver has had unusual snow fall and low temperatures this year. Photo: Union Gospel Mission

Allen says there are massive health risks like hypothermia and frostbite, but also risks related to trying to keep yourself warm.

“We have heard of peoples’ tent structures going up in flames as they have had to make a decision between freezing and lighting candles,” said Allen.

A 2020 count found 2,095 people in Vancouver are homeless. The 2021 and 2022 counts was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Union Gospel Mission workers provide warm drinks

A Vancouver homeless count found that Indigenous people are 13 times more likely to be homeless than anyone else in the total population of Metro Vancouver.

Over half of the homeless population who identified as Indigenous have been in the foster care system.

Allen says the number for Vancouver’s homeless population is higher now

“We have had to turn away six people a day since January.”

The Union Gospel Mission website reports there are now more than 3,600 people who are homeless.

“Especially with the housing crisis and inflation, we are seeing a greater need than ever,” said Allen.’

a van providing warm blanklets and clothes for Vancouver's homeless population
A van from Union Gospel Mission provides warm blankets and clothes. Photo by Union Gospel Mission

The Union Gospel Mission also does outreach for people not comfortable with staying in the shelter, or who have not been able to get in. This includes handing out sleeping bags and warm clothing.

Vancouver’s CRAB Park tent city has had 20 residents living in tents and makeshift shelters.

According to a media report, the power the camp had that was supplied by the Park Board was cut off last week leaving residents in the dark.

In an email statement, the Park Board said maintenance workers at the city had discovered “the power transformer and circuit breaker supplying power to the electrical outlet at CRAB Park had been vandalized.

“Someone attempted to bypass the circuit breaker resulting in major and potentially life-threatening electrical hazards,” the statement reads.

Several warming centres have been opened across Vancouver to provide the city’s homeless population refuge from this week’s freezing weather.

The centres are activated when temperatures reach -4 C or when the weather feels like -5 C, and are intended as a “life-saving measure for people sleeping outside,” the City of Vancouver said in a statement.

The full list of centres is available online.


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