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B.C. snowfall no winter wonderland for Vancouver’s poor and homeless, says advocate

Those living in tents face dangers ranging from hypothermia to risks of using candles or heaters

One of the heaviest one-day snowfalls to hit British Columbia’s south coast in years has caused inconveniences from cancelled flights to power outages, but advocates for those in poverty say the storm also has the potential to be life-threatening.

Nicole Mucci with the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver said such weather is “life and death for community members who are experiencing homelessness.”

Those living in tents or without any shelter face dangers ranging from hypothermia or frostbite to the risks of using candles or heaters to stay warm, she said.

Meanwhile, the snow and bitter cold could force those living in poverty and precarious or inadequate housing to forgo groceries in favour of turning on the heat or buying a pair of boots that doesn’t leak, Mucci said in an interview on Tuesday.

The mission’s 92-bed shelter was overcapacity Monday night, but no one was turned away as 25 centimetres of snow blanketed the region. Typically, the shelter hands out warm clothing or sleeping bags once it reaches capacity, she said.

Environment Canada lifted snowfall warnings for the Lower Mainland Tuesday, but they were quickly replaced by warnings about frigid arctic winds.

The weather office was forecasting wind-chill temperatures that could dip as low as -30 C in parts of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope, before the mercury is expected to rise on Thursday.

Arctic outflow, extreme cold and snowfall warnings covered almost the whole province heading into Tuesday night.

Advocates for people living in a tent encampment in CRAB Park along Vancouver’s waterfront issued a statement Tuesday, renewing their call for donations to a fundraiser that aims to provide “holiday and cold weather supports.”

The funds will go to providing holiday meals, gift hampers and warmth for residents of the so-called tent city, which is currently home to about 50 people, it said.

The B.C. government’s website with emergency information shows warming centres are open in numerous communities, including Victoria, Campbell River and Courtenay on Vancouver Island, as well as Chilliwack, Penticton and Vernon.

Additional overnight shelter spaces and warming centres are open in Vancouver Tuesday night through Thursday due to the extreme weather. The city used social media to share the location of community spaces that will be open.

The Union Gospel Mission estimates more than 3,600 people are homeless across Metro Vancouver, with many more living in precarious housing such as single rooms in rundown hotels.

Mucci said she braved the snow on her commute to work Tuesday but “can’t imagine” what it would be like to have no choice but to spend the entire day or night outside in such cold, snowy conditions.

“Somebody experiencing homelessness is going to see this snowfall in a very different way than some of the kids who get to stay home from daycare and build snowmen,” she said.

“The novelty, the joy a potentially white Christmas could bring is not the same, because it brings with it serious danger.”

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