... Homelessness in Saanich was briefly in the spotlight last December after Butch Mathers died of exposure in Gorge Park on a snowy night in late November.
In response, Saanich council created a cold weather emergency policy that is overseen by Saanich's Emergency Program committee, normally responsible for natural disaster planning.
When the thermometer dips low enough, Saanich Police are tasked with picking up people at risk of exposure.
If they have nowhere to go, they'll get a ride with police -- either downtown to one of the shelters in the city or to a warm police cell for the night.
The policy might have been the end of the issue but the Gorge Tillicum Community Association and the Native Friendship Centre decided more could be done.
One alternative being discussed is an emergency cold-weather shelter hosted by the Native Friendship Centre.
The centre recently moved to Saanich from its former location on Johnson Street in Victoria.
It was one of the agencies involved in Victoria's cold weather policy, which offered floor space to house people when it was too cold to sleep on the street.
The centre has sheltered about 10 people for short-term stays during cold weather. Most of those people, who were not exclusively First Nations, came from Saanich.
After the move to Saanich, into the former Hampton elementary school in the Burnside-Tillicum neighbourhood, the centre offered to continue its cold weather shelter in Saanich.
The offer was met with a luke-warm reception from Saanich council (with the exception of councillors Judy Brownoff and Vic Derman).
At the time, Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said it would be up to the neighbourhood to determine if they wanted such a shelter.
"We're not saying let's build a shelter in Saanich, we're saying let's figure out what's going on," said Paul Gerrard, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, about the March 18 forum.
There is a lot of confusion about how big the problem is, he said.
"It's a bit of an issue here that is underground. Saanich says there is no problem," he said.
However, there continue to be stories of people sleeping in Gorge Park as well as along the Galloping Goose Trail and near the Town and Country Mall.
Gerrard pointed out that people from Saanich who find themselves in need end up filtering downtown when they could be helped closer to home. Gerrard described a case of a woman who left an abusive relationship in a middle-class Royal Oak home. She sought help at the Burnside Gorge community centre in Victoria and was put up in a Gorge Road hotel, again in Victoria.
"There seems to be a missing element here," Gerrard said. ...