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Cold temperatures raise extra concerns for Lethbridge’s homeless population

Click to play video 'Lethbridge homeless population dealing with influx of cold weather' Lethbridge homeless population dealing with influx of cold weather
WATCH ABOVE: After a fairly mild start to the winter, freezing temperatures are having a negative impact on the homeless population in Lethbridge. Eloise Therien has more on what conditions are like for those without a home, and what community groups are doing to help – Jan 25, 2021

After weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures in southern Alberta, the cold has arrived — the negative effects to the city’s homeless along with it.

The Sage Clan, a community organization founded to support the homeless and addicted, conducted one of its first foot patrols of the year on Sunday.

Volunteers typically conduct three patrols — some of which are in vehicles — per week, but leader Mark Brave Rock says they often go beyond that.

“We check on them at night. Patrols are just not for the hours that we’ve designated, the three days of patrols,” he said. “If we know it’s going to be severely cold, we have and we will do it again.”

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On the weekend, the group picked up needles, handed out sandwiches and drinks, and connected with some members of the homeless population.

Brave Rock says he has witnessed people help one another build cardboard shelters, surviving with what they have on hand.

“Of course, you survive. You have to survive. You’re not just going to go lay bare on the concrete,” he said. “People do help each other.”

Alvin Mills, who founded his own organization after falling victim to addiction, often spends his time in downtown Lethbridge handing out necessities.

He brought several bags full of blankets to Galt Gardens on the weekend that were handed out within minutes.

“The ones out here have nowhere to go, and if they’re cold, of course, they’re going to need a blanket,” he said.

Members of the Sage Clan Patrol in Lethbridge prepare to head out on one of their first foot patrols of the year on Sunday, Jan. 24. Eloise Therien/ Global News

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Streets Alive Mission, a longstanding non-profit that also aims to support the vulnerable population, takes a variety of donations throughout the week at two locations in Lethbridge.

When it comes to winter gear, director of operations Cameron Kissick says people often have the wrong idea of what’s needed most.

“Lots of people think of big parka jackets,” he said. “But hoodies, sweaters, long johns [and] track pants that people can put on a couple of pairs of is really is needed. [The] ability to be able to find the stuff that they can layer is important.”

Kissick adds although they have some supply, the need is always present.

“We are fairly well-stocked to be ready for the [incoming] colder weather, but we will go through it very, very quickly,” Kissick said. “Generally speaking, think about anything you need as a person if you’re out in the elements, and that’s what these people need as well.”

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With temperatures expected to dip to – 20 C some nights in the near future, Kissik says he encourages anyone who finds themselves sleeping outside to consider the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre as an option.

Some are worried about what the drop in temperature might mean for their safety.

“Just the other day, my buddy got frostbite,” said Lennie Big Sorrel Horse, who became homeless in the 1990s. “His hands turned black, and I’m worried about that. You know, I’m 58 years old, and I’m not as strong as I used to be.”

While materials to keep individuals warm are needed, Mills adds gestures and compassion can also go a long way.

“I stress to the people out there, [maybe] offer a cup of coffee, you know, a sandwich,” Mills added. “Despite their struggles, they have feelings too.”

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