It’s not even winter yet, but Chilliwack went ahead this week and opened up its extreme weather shelter beds.
“I made the call yesterday when it was clear the colder weather was here,” said Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi’s, who is the one designated to enact the extreme weather protocol for Chilliwack.
It was two degrees and snowing on Thursday afternoon, but dipped below freezing overnight, he noted, so it was a “no-brainer” to open the extreme spaces to those without lodging for the night.
It’s more than a month earlier than last year.
They had 21 people come out of the cold Nov. 2 at RAN.
“We can add 26+ beds as extreme weather spaces, meaning that we don’t turn anyone away, and we do it by putting cots out in our dining room area,” Raddatz said.
“Extreme weather” shelter spaces, funded by BC housing, get opened once the temperatures dip below zero, or it rains for three days.
Those spaces in Chilliwack are found at Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, and Salvation Army for homeless adults, and Cyrus Centre, for youth, and those shelter beds get opened nightly once the “extreme weather” protocol is activated.
At Salvation Army in Chilliwack they had 49 people in total staying overnight on Thursday night, with 17 in the Brigadier Arthur Cartmell shelter building and another 32 in the temporary shelters spaces on the floor of the soup kitchen in the Care and Share Centre.
“Having 49 guests, which is over capacity, shows our numbers have increased. The weather definitely impacts demand for shelter,” said Tim Bohr, community ministries director for Salvation Army.
At Cyrus Centre, they had five youth come inside for extreme weather, along with another five in their regular shelter beds, totalling 10 on Thursday. They can accept youth up to the age of 24 now.
“We had a bit of room to spare since it takes a while to get the word out,” said Les Talvio, executive director of Cyrus Centre. “But if they choose not to come inside, sometimes they are at risk for dying of exposure, or death from unsafe heat sources.”
Cyrus Centre is now also operating a daytime warming centre, until March 31, where youth can get a shower, a meal or do laundry while warming up.
“That is something new for us,” Talvio said.
While a local downtown church was the location for a warming centre for adults last year, it’s not clear yet if it will be reopened this winter.