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Cold snap has homeless shelters full

Flu bug hitting social agency staffers also a challenge
Safe Harbour Society executive director Kath Hoffman says 130 to 150 guests a night have been staying at the Cannery Row shelter during the recent cold snap. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Up to 150 homeless people are finding a place out of the cold each night at Red Deer’s Cannery Row shelter.

Another 60 to 70 are staying warm there during the day as daytime highs have hovered near -20 C, said Safe Harbour Society executive director Kath Hoffman on Friday.

“People are staying in a lot longer during the day now,” she said. “Now that we have the Cannery Row building, we have a lot of room in there so we can let a lot more people sleep during the day, which is really important.”

“Our outreach teams are busy connecting with anyone who is still outside or camping just to make sure people are all right.”

Outreach teams work with the city and RCMP to keep an eye on one of the city’s more vulnerable populations when a deep freeze sets in.

Fortunately, Hoffman has not heard of anyone needing medical treatment for cold-related injuries so far.

“We have been lucky so far. People have been staying in and taking care of themselves,” she said.

“And it’s not just Safe Harbour that’s making sure of that. There are lots of agencies in town doing that.

“As always, because we’re good Canadians around here, our hearts and efforts are doubled and tripled during these cold spells.”

Among them is Mustard Seed, which received additional provincial funding to extend its hours during the day so guests can stay in the dining hall all day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are 46 overnight mats available for its sober clients.

“The province was making sure all of the shelters had the ability and the funding to operate 24/7. That’s always a good thing.”

Hoffman said Safe Harbour and Mustard Seed work closely together and will transport people in cold weather by taxi between the facilities to make the best use of available spaces.

While the cold is a recent challenge, Safe Harbour and other agencies have been hit hard by the flu, which has swept through staff.

“The flu has been hitting everybody really hard,” she said.

Hoffman estimates around 40 per cent of her 90 staff and volunteers have come down with the flu in the last few weeks. A couple of weeks ago, they had to close the detox centre for four days because the flu left it short of staff.

A flu-related bug also made its rounds among shelter clients a few weeks ago, but seems to have abated for now.

Meanwhile, Safe Harbour welcomes any donations of underwear, socks, boots, gloves and other winter clothing. They are also beginning to prepare gift bags for members of the community in need. Gift cards are welcomed as well as cash donations, which society staff will use to buy gifts to be distributed. To contribute call 403-347-0181 to arrange for drop off.

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