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Cold weather dangerous for people living on the streets

Click to play video 'Cold snap particularly hard on the homeless and low income people' Cold snap particularly hard on the homeless and low income people
Cold weather dangerous for the homeless on the streets overnight – Jan 5, 2018

Kingston, like most of the country, is shivering through another deep freeze.

While many people can turn up the thermostat, the homeless and people with limited resources are most affected when the mercury drops.

Temperatures have dropped into the -20s. With the wind chill it feels more like the -30s.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society in Kingston offers a meal program along with a food pantry and clothing for the homeless and people with income insecurity.

Executive Director Judy Fyfe says extreme weather is dangerous.

“Just as in the summer, when  we worry about extreme heat, in the winter this is our biggest concern because this affects whether they can live or die through the night,” said Fyfe.

READ MORE: Montreal’s transit authority allows homeless to take refuge from winter cold

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Barbara Aley volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul and says she’s been lucky. The one time she was homeless it was short and summer.

“It wasn’t a good time for me and my husband,” said Aley. “It was pretty bad.”

On disability, Aley says keeping a roof over her head isn’t easy and the cold makes life more expensive.

“The last place we had was during a mild winter but there wasn’t one heat bill under $180 per month,” added Aley. “The rent was $850.”

Costs go even higher when you include other essentials like food and clothing.  Aley says sometimes difficult sacrifices have to be made to keep housed.

“Usually the food’s one of the first to go.”

READ MORE: Peterborough emergency shelters busy during cold snap

Home Base Housing operates the “In from the Cold” emergency shelter for homeless men and women over 25 on Montreal streets.

The shelters supervisor Jay Nowak says their numbers have been fairly consistent this winter.

“We’re tending to see people who stay in here around the number of 18 to 21,” said Nowak. “We look at it as though people who are cold at -10 C are going to be cold at -30 C.”

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The shelter has 22 beds with an overflow capability of 35. Nowak says they’ve never reached capacity at the shelter so they’ve never had to turn anyone away, but they keep gift cards on hand for 24-hour restaurants and coffee shops so an individual, if they were turned away, would at least have a place to go.

“We’re open 24-hours-a-day. We have day services here allowing clients to come in get a warm cup of coffee,” added Nowak.

Home Based Housing offers outreach and programs to help people find housing, which Nowak thinks are making a dent. He says the shelters occupancy has dropped from 95 per cent in past years to 76 per cent this year.