As temperatures drop to minus 30 with the wind chill in the Okanagan, safety concerns for those who live on the streets have grown significantly.
“Right now, there is a huge concern for loss of life for those who have no place to go,” said Salvation Army pastor Darryl Burry.
In response to the extreme weather, 32 new emergency shelter spots opened up on Monday night.
Twenty of them are at the Salvation Army’s community church gym on Sutherland Avenue and 12 at the existing Cornerstone shelter on Leon Avenue.
“Last night, we had 17 people who slept here,” Burry said. “We anticipate that as word continues to get out that this is available, that we’ll see more come in the coming nights to a maximum. We can accommodate 20 people here in this space.”
The number of spaces could be increased, but only with additional staffing and volunteer levels.
Burry said the first night went very well, with many expressing gratitude to have a warm place to stay.
“When people walked in the door here last evening, they very quickly made their way to their mats and really started bunking down for the night,” Burry said.
“The reality is when you are out facing these temperatures all day, it’s exhausting and so they came in, they quietly went to their mats and there was a lot of people sleeping within a very short period of time — just grateful to have a warm space for the night.”
The temporary shelter is open between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., and will operate until the deep freeze subsides.
Burry noted they have also been providing shuttling services from the downtown core to the shelter.
The temporary spaces are funded by BC Housing and involve a number of community partners.
“We have volunteers who have been trained through the Welcome Inn, who are coming in making sure we can keep these doors open,” said Burry.
“B.C. Housing, of course, is a great support. The city has been a great support, all working together to make sure to keep the space available.”
The 32 new cold-weather spaces are in addition to the 40 available at the Welcome Inn shelter at the old food bank site on Ellis Street.
The Welcome Inn shelter opened Jan. 2 and has been operating at full capacity since.