December 5, 2016 5:13 pm
Updated: December 5, 2016 10:57 pm

Cold conditions threaten homeless; additional shelters opened in Lower Mainland

WATCH: The cold weather has homeless advocates worried about whether their services will protect the less-fortunate. Geoff Hastings reports.

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The cold weather can be a serious threat to the homeless people in the Lower Mainland.

In response to the recent change in conditions, the City of Vancouver has activated its extreme weather plan and is opening its Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) shelters.

On Monday, the City announced at least 15 extreme weather shelters are open, which include more than 200 spaces.

Temperatures are expected dip to -5 Celsius by Wednesday and some of the outreach efforts are being done by organizations like the Union Gospel Mission (UGM).

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“We take whatever steps we can to make sure that people who don’t have a place to go, who are vulnerable are going to be warm, are going to be dry and make sure they don’t feel abandoned,” said UGM spokesperson Jeremy Hunka.

“Last night at the UGM, our shelter was full and we had people sleeping on the floor in the hallways on mats. Tonight we’ll have our full extreme weather response, we’ll have up to 20 spaces mats on the floors to try to get people inside.”

READ MORE: Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis driving people into homelessness: Report

Hunka said it’s important to note that Vancouver’s homeless population has not seen this type of snowfall in more than two years, which makes them unprepared for it.

WATCH:  Jeremy Hunka explains how to support the homeless during extreme weather conditions. 

“They’re already vulnerable, so this weather will catch them off-guard,” Hunka said.

Shelters have been preparing for this scenario for weeks with a total of 195 temporary winter beds, across six locations, opened last week.

The UGM staff has been handing out heat-reflective sleeping bags and blankets; toques, jackets, and bags.

“We’re trying to get that survival gear to the people that need it most,” Hunka explained. “Those things could potentially save lives.”

Hunka said any donations are welcome, but what they really need are waterproof boots and coats.

Winter shelters in Vancouver are opened mid-November and close no later than April 30.

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