Homeless shelters filling up as Winnipeg deals with extreme cold

WINNIPEG — As the temperature drops in Winnipeg, the need for a warm place to stay rises for the city’s most vulnerable.

“We’re a lot busier,” said Jacob Kaufman, a peer advocate with Main Street Project.

“A lot of places are closed now where people would typically go: libraries, malls. So, we tend to be busier than normal.”

Kaufman has been with Main Street Project for about a year and a half. Each day, he heads out in the shelter’s outreach van to help those in need.

“It provides 24-hour outreach to the community,” said Kaufman. “We bring them coffee, warm clothes, food, really whatever they need.”

The van operates in shifts of two people at a time wearing proper PPE, and is thoroughly cleaned at the end of each shift.

Like Main Street Project, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope has also been busy with Winnipeggers looking to get out of the extreme cold.

“On Monday and even [Tuesday] night, we’ve had to turn a few people away and just resource them out to some of the other shelters that still had space,” said Kristen Burridge, the Salvation Army’s addictions, emergency, and transitional care director.

The Salvation Army currently has three dormitories with 10 beds each. They’re physically distanced with dividers in between in order to meet health guidelines.

There are typically additional spaces for people, but the numbers have had to be reduced because of COVID-19.

“In years past, we would have close to 100 extra spaces in cold weather because we would start putting them in the actual shelter which we could put 30 mats as opposed to the 14 that are in there right now,” said Burridge.

RESPONDING TO COLD EXPOSURE CALLS

So far this year, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has received 29 calls with the primary concern being cold exposure.

The WFPS said a call may come in where the chief complaint isn’t for cold exposure, but when paramedics arrive on the scene, they could end up treating a patient for cold exposure. It also noted assessing homelessness is not recorded when treating patients.

The Winnipeg Police Service said it does not track weather-related calls. It said a call of that nature may come in as something other than a check on a person’s well-being, which makes it difficult to track how many calls would be related to extreme weather.

“When an officer responds to a ‘check well-being’ or ‘assistance’ regarding a person not dressed for the weather or appears to be suffering from extreme cold exposure upon attendance, the primary concern is to check their immediate safety and physical wellbeing,” said a police spokesperson in an email to CTV News.

Police said the WFPS is often called upon to provide a medical assessment at the scene and provide triage care or transport them for further medical assistance.

COVID-19’S IMPACT ON HOMELESSNESS

End Homelessness Winnipeg expected there would be challenges this winter with the pandemic.

“Manitoba winters are always difficult for individuals without a home, but that’s exacerbated this season with COVID-19,” said Kris Clemens, the communications and community relations manager with End Homelessness Winnipeg.

In the fall, the Extreme Weather Response Committee was created to address pandemic needs. Some of the priorities included opening additional drop-in and warming spaces, and expanding outreach services.

“The pandemic has really made homelessness a lot more visible in Winnipeg because of the fewer number of places individuals have to go, and really does speak to the need for some more sustainable long-term housing options,” said Clemens.

Clemens noted the impacts of the pandemic could result in a larger homeless population in the years to come.

HELPING THOSE IN NEED

Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre is collecting winter clothing donations for patients.

Shared Health said the hospital manages a clothing depot for those who do not have access to appropriate clothing during a length stay or upon discharge.

It said there is an immediate need for men’s winter boots and jackets. Donation drop-offs can be arranged through HSC’s volunteer services.

Shared Health said due to COVID-19, precautions are in place to ensure clothing is stored and distributed safely.

Main Street Project also noted it is in need of donations including socks, long underwear, sweaters, and sleeping bags.  

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