Shelters preparing for cold Christmas

It’s going to be a cold, cold Christmas ­— and all the more so for Red Deer’s homeless population. Shelter providers in the city are preparing for steady overnight visitors as temperatures drop to -25C on Christmas Eve.

It’s going to be a cold, cold Christmas ­— and all the more so for Red Deer’s homeless population.

Shelter providers in the city are preparing for steady overnight visitors as temperatures drop to -25C on Christmas Eve.

With a Christmas Day high of only -18C forecast, the holidays will be chillier than usual for folks who already have difficulties during this season. “It’s not a happy time for a lot of people,” said Laura Smith, director of detox and shelter services for the Safe Harbour Society.

She noted that many residents who live in the streets are no longer in touch with their families, so Christmas can be a hard time. Cold temperatures and wind chills will add an extra burden.

“We’re expecting to be busy,” said Smith, who has already seen a lot of homeless people pass through the shelter since this winter started earlier and is colder than normal.

The mat program for individuals under the influence of alcohol and drugs is already pushing capacity. While the program is officially for 20 clients, Smith said it’s allowed to go over capacity, if necessary, to prevent someone from freezing outdoors.

Lately, clients have also been admitted to the boot room before the shelter opens to get them out of the cold.

On Christmas morning, shelter staff plan to give out small gifts of necessities, such as nail clippers, as well as chocolates and treats. City residents have already made some generous donations to the program, including a city boy who saved his allowance and purchased 20 $10 McDonald’s gift cards to be given out to clients, said Smith.

But she added that they could still use more donated gloves and hats.

The People’s Place homeless shelter, with spaces for 23 people, has also been full, and so has the Safe Harbour detox, which accommodates seven to 10 people and runs 365 days a year.

Client numbers could not be confirmed for the youth Winter Inn program, or the eight-bed shelter run by the Youth and Volunteer Centre, although neither have been at capacity. “There should be no kid in Red Deer who doesn’t have a warm place to sleep,” said a worker.

The adult Winter Inn program, which opened on Nov. 1, has also been running with fewer clients. Up to 30 people can be put up for the night, but numbers have been lower than last year, said Smith — who believes this is a positive sign that some homeless people are finding permanent places to live.

While shelters’ clients are turned back out into the streets each morning, Red Deer has a drop-in day shelter that provides warmth for part of the day. Berachah Place, at 4611 50th Ave., will be open next week, and have extended hours from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com