Day programs kept busy as temperatures plunge

Demand among Red Deer’s homeless is growing at soup kitchens and other day services while homeless shelters see reduced need during this season’s first bitter cold snap.

Volunteer Dan Page gets a warm-up from colleague Natali Mastarchuk inside busy Berachah Place Tuesday.

Demand among Red Deer’s homeless is growing at soup kitchens and other day services while homeless shelters see reduced need during this season’s first bitter cold snap.

Officials with NightReach, Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, Berachah Place, Potter’s Hands Ministries and Shining Mountains Living Community Services say they are working hard to ensure no one needs to stay outside in the Arctic chill.

Monday night, when temperatures plummeted to below -30C with windchills of -38C, two NightReach workers found 28 people walking in the downtown area.

The workers supplied them with everything from water to condoms and granola bars. A total of 13 pairs of gloves, eight tuques and seven coffees, plus two safe inhalation kits to help addicts inhale drugs more safely were given out.

Everyone was under age 50 and one was younger than 18. Among them were three sex workers.

“We saw 28 people, the most we have seen in one night — the coldest night,” said Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Society.

Monday was so cold that electricity use in Red Deer reached an all-time high of 136.9 megawatts, surpassing the Dec. 15, 2008, record of 136.4 megawatts.

The AIDS organization is doing the NightReach pilot program with the Red Deer Native Friendship Society two nights a week. City of Red Deer Family and Community Support Services is funding it until Jan. 1.

Fortunately, those who need shelter are finding a bed for the night.

Colleen Markus, director of programs with Safe Harbour, said contrary to what some believe, they don’t see a surge of clients during bone-chilling weather.

Like Christmastime, people are more accommodating to offer the homeless a free bed for the night.

“I wouldn’t say we see a huge decrease (in numbers), but sometimes we see a little decrease when the cold weather comes,” said Markus.

The society operates 20 beds through its detox program, 23 beds through People’s Place shelter, 20 to 30 beds through Winter Inn where participating churches open their doors for the night, and the mat program of 20 to 25 beds.

“One thing we do is make sure that we’re being really diligent and allow people to come in for day support, to warm up for an hour — encourage people to stay in,” Markus said.

Those offering day support for the homeless have seen a rise in clientele.

Chris Salomons, kitchen co-ordinator with Potter’s Hands, said between 70 and 80 breakfasts are normally served.

“This week, it’s been more like 100-plus,” he said.

The centre also provides soup lunches and since the cold weather began in the fall, more people have come in for meals.

Raye St. Denys, executive director of Shining Mountains Living Community Services, said she figured they wouldn’t have many people walk in this week, but the centre did.

The agency provides hot stew, soups, sandwiches, coffee, plus items like blankets, toiletries, hats and mitts.

St. Denys said they could use more donations of mitts and gloves.

Kimberley Wilson, director of the Berachah Place day shelter, said an average of 29 people were visiting the shelter daily last week compared with 55 on average a day this week.

“When it’s this cold, it’s hard to get motivated to find a job,” Wilson said. “But they find themselves having perseverance.”

The shelter at B4611 50th Ave. provides free laundry, shower and storage facilities, plus free winterwear and light snacks and drinks.

When it shuts down for the day, there are other places where people can stay warm because the agencies have co-ordinated efforts, Wilson added.

Berachah Place has issued an appeal for financial help in the hiring of a support worker and for building renovations. For information, call the centre at 403-358-5437.

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