Coming in from the cold as the mercury drops
With overnight temperatures still in the single digits, organizers at Kamloops' cold weather shelter weren't expecting a busy start when they opened their program on Nov. 4.
But, in its first two nights of operation, the Out of the Cold program at St. Paul's Cathedral is already seeing the kind of guest numbers it typically gets when the mercury plummets to below zero.
"It's kind of shocking because it's not that cold out yet and, typically, our shelter's more for the people that usually sleep outside and then come in when it's really cold," program co-ordinator Sasha Smode said.
Out of the Cold runs Sundays and Wednesdays at St. Paul's Cathedral, 360 Nicola Street, and on any other night when the temperature drops below -10 C.
The shelter runs from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and provides guests with a hot dinner and breakfast, as well as a place to socialize and sleep.
On the first Sunday of the season, 18 people showed up for the evening meal and 12 stayed at the shelter for the full night. Because the shelter locks its door at 10 p.m., Smode said some guests choose to grab a few hours of sleep and leave for the night.
"It's a lot of new faces," she said. "Typically, I know the majority of our guests by name."
Smode said there seems to be more elderly and young people using the program, which is organized by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, as well as more women.
"Typically, we get way more males than females but, this year, too, there were more females that have been coming in and actually staying," she said.
"It's a change."
For the past several years, numbers at the shelter were on the decline.
In 2009, the average number of people using Out of the Cold was 17, compared to 14 in 2010 and about 13 in 2011.
Smode said she's not sure why demand for the shelter seems to be starting earlier this year, but Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) executive director Doug Sage said the program may be picking up people who can't find a bed at Emerald Centre.
The 35-bed emergency shelter on Victoria Street West — operating in the former Rendezvous Hotel location — is consistently full, Sage said.
"I think the reason they're seeing these people is that there's no room with us, so my hunch is that it's going to be a busy year for everybody."
Sage said the CMHA shelter is also seeing a number of new faces, but it's not clear if they are transients moving through the city on their way to warmer locales or permanent residents.
He also suspects that, as Kamloops' homeless population ages, people who have chosen to sleep outdoors as much as possible in the past are starting to come in.
"The older they are, the more difficult it is to be in colder weather," Sage said.
Environment Canada's forecast for this weekend calls for much colder temperatures, with lows of -4 C to -7 C expected on Saturday, Nov. 10, and Sunday, Nov. 11.
With a potentially busy winter looming, Smode is calling for more volunteers to help out with Out of the Cold, as well as donations of winter boots, gloves, hats and socks.
Donations can be dropped off at St. Paul's Cathedral downtown or at the St. Vincent de Paul Society at 168 Briar Ave.
To volunteer, contact Maybelle at 250-376-4161.