As temperatures plummet to minus 18 with the wind chill in Penticton, non-profit agencies are racing against the clock to shelter the homeless from the cold.
Roger Evans, the manager of the Salvation Army, said lives are on the line.
“They’re not dressed like you or I so they don’t have a lot of clothes, someone could very well die in these cold temperatures. This is brutal,” he said on Wednesday.
The Salvation Army operates a 27-bed emergency winter shelter at 1706 Main Street and a 16-bed emergency shelter at 123 Nanaimo Avenue East. Both shelters are at capacity.
“We are seeing the overflow now at Compass House, so we are bringing them in on cots,” Evans said.
He added that no one would be turned away.
“It’s too cold to be out there, so we will bring anybody in. If they have to sit in chairs, we will let them sit in chairs,” he said.
Arctic air is whipping across the B.C. Interior, causing the mercury to plunge five to 10 degrees lower than normal, making it the coldest conditions yet this winter.
Tina Siebert, bylaw services supervisor with the City of Penticton, said the Community Active Support Table (CAST) is identifying the most vulnerable and connects them with resources.
The table is comprised of social service agencies, BC Housing, the City of Penticton and the RCMP.
“We find the people in the community who are the most vulnerable, so the ones that are the most high risk in the community. And once we’ve brought them to the CAST table, we connect them with resources,” she said.
Siebert added that some of the street-entrenched population are seeking refuge in public spaces.
“We’re finding a lot of people in our breezeways and really just anywhere they can get out of the elements,” she said.
Others refuse to be housed.
“There are some of those as well, and it is really unfortunate, especially when it is so cold. We want to make sure no one is freezing out here,” she said.
Last fall’s homeless count identified 163 people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness in Penticton. This past spring, preliminary results found 108 people were homeless or at risk of being homeless in Penticton.