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Extreme-weather alert triggers opening of emergency homeless shelters

Temperatures are set to dip to -2 by Tuesday in Vancouver, triggering an extreme-weather alert and opening the doors of emergency homeless shelters in the city.

Irene Jackson, co-ordinator of the Extreme Weather Response Program, said temperatures will dip to -2 overnight, prompting concern over whether homeless Vancouverites will come in from the cold. "People can die in temperatures like that," Ms. Jackson said. "At best, it's certainly a danger to someone's health and well-being in conditions that are this cold without protection from the elements."

With more than 200 primary and backup sites available in Metro Vancouver, shelter operators are less concerned about having enough space, than making sure the homeless actually use those spaces.

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"Getting the word out is a lot more difficult than I had hoped," said Tracey MacLeod Yerxa, neighbourhood house manager at Marpole Place. "We still don't have a single outreach worker for this area, so trying to get information out to the homeless is very difficult."

Monday's alert marks the 27th of the season, which has seen hundreds of Vancouver homeless bunk down on mats and cots since November. The alerts are issued whenever the temperature falls to -2. Other inclement weather such as heavy snow, freezing rain and high winds can trigger the alerts.

Ms. Jackson said she believes there enough spots to accommodate anyone who needs shelter from the cold, but that such emergency measures are no solution to homelessness.

The Response Program has not had to turn shelter seekers away this year, but when weather conditions get particularly severe it issues alerts allowing existing shelters to accept more people temporarily. Nearly 60 churches and community centres that don't normally act as shelters can lay out mats on the floors of their common space and serve coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

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