With temperatures approaching -10C with wind chill and an arctic outflow warning – Prince Rupert residents’ newest favourite term – those without homes are needing to stay warm however possible.
An arctic outflow warning occurs when bitterly cold air flows from the interior to coastal communities with outflow winds creating wind chills of -20C or less for six hours or more.
Rupertites privileged with mild winters the past few years are getting an arctic wake-up call and some driving lessons on the fly on how to navigate their way through icy conditions for days at a time, instead of seeing the white stuff melt by the next morning the night after it falls.
But for the homeless, this winter is turning out to be a challenge, although the situation hasn’t turned dire just yet, said Capt. Gary Sheils of the Prince Rupert Salvation Army.
“We can house a total of 17 people, but we’ve got a ways to go before we’re housing 17,” he said on Thursday.
The beds to escape the cold are located at Raffles, while in previous years, extreme weather shelters have been set up at the Salvation Army gymnasium and the civic centre.
While Prince Rupert wasn’t listed as one of the B.C. communities to officially receive extra spaces from the Province of B.C.’s Extreme Weather Response program, Sheils said he has the go-ahead from the province to rent more bed-spaces if need-be should the number of beds and cots max out.
“We don’t run at 100 per cent occupancy, plus over and above that we’ve got five cots we can use,” said Sheils. “They’re not saying go ahead and rent three or four more rooms permanently, but they’ve said if you need them, go ahead and do it. So they’re looking after Prince Rupert.”
The province’s Extreme Weather Response program supplement the permanent, year-round spaces available for the homeless. The additional spaces can be used until March 31, 2017, and communities decide which weather conditions warrant the number of spaces to activate based on need above the regular spaces available.
Bed-spaces provide three meals a day on most occasions around B.C.
Terrace was granted an extra 23 spaces if needed and Kitimat was granted four.
Community members are already stepping up to help out those whose health may be affected by colder temperatures.
The Friendship House has begun distributing handmade tuques to the needy and Society of the Mission of the Good Shephard president Ben Aster was concerned this week after seeing a homeless person fall and bang their head on the ice near the church. Aster noted the man was intoxicated, and called an ambulance for him.
“The Mission of the Good Shephard gathers food and clothing and places for people to stay. We house the homeless and we feed low-income families at the church,” Aster said.
“It’s challenging and there’s a little bit higher number of them than last year … I think there’s been an increase.
Since late in the spring, the society has been offering meals to the needy twice a week, but the society is in arrears, and the church may be shut down. Aster is always on the lookout for food, warm clothing and bed spaces. He said they’ve previously looked into purchasing the old police station building on Second Avenue West and have tried applying for funds through the Port of Prince Rupert and Ridley Terminals but to no avail.
“Our vice-president Tammy Luciow wrote a letter to [Minister Responsible for Housing] Rich Coleman and he has not responded for our request for funding,” Aster said, adding he’s also looking for someone willing to volunteer their efforts in grant-writing and accounting to help out.
“Every year the salmon season season has been declining and we wanted to have a food bank going in our church too. We are accepting donations of any kind,” he said.