More people than usual were seeking a warm place to sleep in downtown Chilliwack once the mercury dropped 10 degrees below normal.
Cory Buettner, who manages The Portal, a shelter with 45 spaces, said the facility run by Ruth and Naomi’s Mission has been full to capacity.
The Arctic outflow temperatures that rolled into town on Sunday were definitely having an effect on those living on the streets.
“We have been seeing people coming inside more — and they’re staying longer,” said Buettner.
The day services at the Portal are also increasing, as people come in for coffee from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and then again in the afternoon.
But staffing challenges have forced them to reduce the daytime hours of operation on weekends just to give staff proper respite.
“It’s a small space and a whole lot of people,” said Buettner, describing the challenge of keeping everyone safe.
There is also a wait list of 35, in addition to the 45 they see daily, as they try to open up spaces to new people whenever possible.
Portal staff stay in close contact with the other service providers around town at Cyrus Centre, Salvation Army as well as Ann Davis, to see where there are vacancies, or surges in need. The other main shelters have been close to capacity, or at capacity.
Regulars at the Portal can lose their spot if they don’t show up for a couple of days, or if they’re violent or abusive. Sometimes they are couch-surfing or hunkering down in alcoves.
At Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, with its main shelter on Margaret Road, they were averaging about 20 guests per night prior to the freezing temperatures.
They saw those numbers bumped up to 28 as of Sunday, where they also streamed the Super Bowl, put out snacks, and then later served dinner.
“We have noticed an increase at our shelter on the main campus,” said Bill Raddatz, RAN executive director. “Going forward we assume it will be staying at this level.”
RAN shelter capacity is at 26 on Margaret, according to their contract conditions. They can squeeze in up to 35 if they have to but many nights they are not filled to capacity.
“The hard part is until we are filled to capacity, we can’t advocate for more resources,” Buettner said. “We know the need is out there.”
They can’t use drugs inside the shelters so many will stay outside, or come into the shelter early on, but will leave in the middle of the night.
Although they don’t offer outreach services from RAN or the Portal any more, they still keep an eye on things.
“The one thing that people tend to forget is that the people we work with are resourceful and smart, and they find ways to survive,” Buettner remarked. “Many have lived in colder cities before as well and they tend to get very creative.”
There are still at least 20 people still out on the streets.
“The community is doing the best it can to manage,” said Raddatz, adding if all the shelters were closed, as some have suggested, there would be hundreds more people living on the streets.
Buettner said he gets calls from people across Chilliwack who want to know if the guy who stays on the south side, known as James, is managing OK.
“I’ve spoken to RCMP officers and asked them to check on James,” Buettner said. “I get more calls about him I think than anyone else.”
Chilliwack is a caring community, with many who want to help those on the streets.
“A lot of people out there have their heart in the right place. Some see the voids or the blanks we are trying to fill,” he said. “But things just don’t happen overnight. It helps if we can all work together.”
Several housing projects are coming to fruition soon.
“In the next three months we are going to all of a sudden have almost 200 more units online. It all adds up.”