Homeless in Vancouver: City’s first snowfall of 2020 is a slushy taste of things to come

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      For every one time it snows in Toronto it probably snows 10 times here in Vancouver—nine in the anticipation and once in real life.

      Well, after days of anticipation, Vancouver’s first real snowfall of winter 2020 occurred in the early morning hours of Friday (January 10).

      There were forecasts of 10 to 15 centimetres at higher elevations of the city but only 5 centimetres were expected closer to sea level.

      A morning to stay home (unless you’re homeless)

      Thin slush at 6:47 a.m., in the mouth of an alley at Alder Street, on the north side of West Broadway.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      At around 6:45 a.m., when I finally began making my way toward West Broadway in the Fairview neighbourhood (only 40 to 50 metres above sea level), the falling snow had “warmed” to the consistency of ice-cold, light rain.

      This is about what I expected.

      Forty-five minutes earlier, when I woke up in my parkade sleeping spot, I gauged how precipitous the weather was by listening carefully to the sound of passing cars. What I heard was definitely swooshing rain sounds, rather than soft, crunching snow sounds.

      What I found on the side streets around my parkade was a thin coverlet of slush—already pierced to the asphalt throughout by the tracks and treads of pedestrian and motor traffic.

      Wet but otherwise snow-free West Broadway at 6:56 a.m.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      But even this thin film of slush made it tough for me to get traction as I pushed my bike and trailer up a bit of a slope toward West Broadway.

      When I did finally reach it, just before 7 a.m., the shiny, wet ribbon of largely snow-free West Broadway—leading straight to my destination, some six blocks west—was a welcome sight. So was the conscientious building manager I saw in the 1200 block, dutifully shovelling the sidewalk fronting their condo.

      A building manager in the 1200 block of West Broadway, out shovelling their sidewalk at 6:54 a.m.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      When I arrived a few minutes later at the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway, I was greeted by a cozy warm restaurant that was mostly occupied by my homeless peers.

      This is to be expected in an area that is home to dozens of homeless men (and even a few homeless women) but not a single emergency shelter bed—except for a handful reserved for families (adults with dependants) at Cypress Street and West 15th Avenue.

      The closest thing that the entire West Side of Vancouver has ever had to an actual homeless shelter was the 25-bed Extreme Weather Response (EWR) shelter that used to open intermittently at an Anglican church at 1805 Larch Street in the nearby Kitsilano neighbourhood.

      The Larch EWR, however, closed permanently in 2017 and then the entire church property was sold.

      Currently, the site is the subject of a controversial development application to build a five-storey rental building, under the city’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program.

      To be honest, emergency shelters are overnight affairs at best.

      Even if there were an accessible shelter in the Fairview area, it would still kick its homeless clients back onto the streets by 7 a.m., and many of them would then head for a fast food restaurant.

      As things now stand, many homeless people sleeping rough in the Fairview area count the hours until the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway opens at 5 a.m., so they can get out of the wet and cold and get into a proper bathroom.

      Not counting the early takeaway crowd Friday morning, homeless customers in the 1400 block McDonald’s outnumbered the non-homeless ones by at least four to one—until about 8 a.m., when the office employees flooded in.

      That was also about the time—contrary to hopes and expectations—that the light rain turned back into snow.

      Some of the last flakes of snow to fall Friday morning in the Fairview neighbourhood.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      As I was writing at 11 a.m. the temperature in Vancouver was listed as 2° C but the falling snow was visibly beginning to stick to the roadway of West Broadway. This also meant that snow had to be acumulating in the side streets and back alleys.

      However, before noon—as luck would have it and the temperature edged up to its expected high of 4° C—the snow turned back to rain and then the rain all but stopped.

      Hopefully, the slushy snow on the side streets and alleys will have time to fully sublimate before the temperature falls tonight.

      But no matter what, this has only been a foretaste of the heavy snow that is supposed to be coming our way next week, when temperatures as low as -11° C are forecast.

      Oh brrr-other!