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Extreme cold: Red Deer’s Safe Harbour shelter is accommodating up to 188 people overnight

Higher costs of living have helped triple the shelter’s clients: Hoffman
Environment Canada has issued an Extreme Cold Warning for much of Alberta. (Advocate file photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray)

With Red Deer in the grips of extreme cold, homeless shelters are opening longer hours and street outreach teams are watching for people at risk of hypothermia.

“We’re not turning anyone away — and I’m happy to say that,” said Kath Hoffman, executive-director of Safe Harbour Society, which runs Red Deer’s largest homeless shelter in the former Cannery Row Bingo site.

Operating in a spacious building is allowing 175 to 188 people to spend their nights indoors, whereas a maximum of 52 sleepers could be sheltered at Safe Harbour’s smaller previous site, Hoffman added.

It had been incredibly hard to turn people away, she recalled — “we would worry” — so Hoffman and her staff are happy to be able to accommodate the growing local need.

With more people now facing higher inflation, rents and utilities — as well as an ongoing opioid crisis — Hoffman is seeing three times as many folks who need shelter services, than in years past.

The Safe Harbour shelter is now open 24 hours, seven days a week.

When daily ‘highs’ are wallowing in the mid-20s, as they were on Thursday, staff try to accommodate people’s needs indoors, so they don’t have to go outside, said Hoffman.

“We are making sure everyone gets in” — but some clients may choose not to enter the shelter, she added. “Our social diversion/outreach teams are always on the look-out for people who can be camping,” to ensure they are withstanding the cold.

Overnight temperatures are expected to drop to -32 C on Friday. Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning, with wind chills near -40 C, for much of Alberta.

In this unforgiving environment, frostbite can develop in minutes, so Hoffman said staff are also watching out for incoming clients who may have frostbite.

The cold is expected to ease up later on Friday when a high of -19 C is expected. Then the forecast returns to a more balmy -6 on Saturday and -2 C on Sunday. Next week’s highs are anticipated to remain in the minus-single digits.

Meanwhile, Red Deer’s The Mustard Seed shelter is continuing to be full this week, with 45 overnight clients.

More people are being admitted during the day, since regular drop-in hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. were extended to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. over the cold snap.

If demand is higher than can be accommodated at The Mustard Seed, the additional people are referred to the Safe Harbour shelter.