Shelters fill in the chill

Shelters in Red Deer are nearing capacity as the city’s homeless seek refuge from the bitter cold.

Photo by RANDY FIEDLER/Advocate staff

Photo by RANDY FIEDLER/Advocate staff

Shelters in Red Deer are nearing capacity as the city’s homeless seek refuge from the bitter cold.

Officials with Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing shelter programs, Berachah Place and Loaves and Fishes say demand has increased as the temperatures continue to hit well below zero.

Environment Canada forecast wind chill values of -40C to -45C overnight Wednesday. A low of -34C was expected overnight Wednesday with the temperature rising to -29C by this morning.

Ron Ford, shelter manager for Safe Harbour’s year-round homeless shelter People’s Place and its Mats overnight program for people using drugs or alcohol, said both programs have been running at capacity most of the winter.

Fortunately, Ford said, they haven’t had to turn anybody away. He said the adult Winter Inn program, an emergency winter shelter which rotates during the week between three downtown churches –– Salvation Army, Potter’s Hands Ministries and Seventh Day Adventist –– has helped fill the gap.

The winter emergency shelter operates until March with 30 beds at the Salvation Army and Potter’s Hands, and 20 beds at Seventh Day Adventist.

Day drop-in shelters including Red Deer Loaves and Fishes and Berachah Place have adjusted their hours to meet the demand.

Halina Jarvis, director of Loaves and Fishes, opened the centre a half hour earlier this week because she doesn’t want to see people out in the cold any longer than they have to be.

The kitchen offers a hot dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5 p.m. During the rest of the week they provide coffee and sandwiches.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase,” said Jarvis. “Monday’s meal was packed. We must have served at least 150 to 200 people.”

Jarvis said many are not properly dressed for the frigid conditions. She said they may have jackets but they are not sufficient for -30C temperatures.

“We’ve been handing out a lot of coats and boots and mitts,” said Jarvis. “We have a big need for coats right now.”

Jarvis said they need large winter coats with hoods for men and women.

“As long as it stays this cold I am going to stay open until 7 to 7:30 p.m. because that’s when the other places open up,” she said. “Usually we shut down at 5 or 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ve just been leaving it open because it is just too cold.”

Berachah Place, a drop-in day shelter on 4611-50th Avenue, has also kept its doors open a little longer to provide a safe haven for the homeless. On average, 120 people come through the doors daily. The shelter is also in need of winter coats, gloves and toques.

On Monday night when the temperatures were below -30C, NightReach workers encountered about 12 to 15 people, and on Tuesday night there were even fewer when the temperatures were below -35C.

“We did not see many people out,” said Ashley Fleming, the NightReach program manager. “Basically anybody who had a place to be was there.”

The two on-foot outreach workers head out between 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. week nights and from 4 to 10 p.m. on the weekends with backpacks filled with harm reduction supplies, seasonal clothing and donated food. Fleming said they never have enough gloves. She has seen an increase of people needing a place to go out at night.

“Last night especially with the windchill, you just couldn’t survive outside,” said Fleming.

David Cardinal, a homeless person, spent Tuesday night at the Salvation Army and warmed up at Berachah Place on Wednesday morning. Cardinal has been homeless for a few years. He said he is thankful to have a place to go because it’s been really cold lately.