When the weather gets really cold on the streets of Regina, Carmichael Outreach keeps doors open to people with nowhere else to go.
Tyler Gray works at Carmichael and he says when the weather turns bitterly cold, there is a substantial increase in foot traffic through the small building on Osler Street.
“People I think are just trying to find any way that they can to stay warm, whether that’s hanging out in a space that has some heat to it, or whether that’s grabbing a meal, or whether that’s grabbing another layer of clothing – everyone’s just trying to do what they can to stay away from winter’s clutches,” he said.
The organization normally closes up for the noon hour, but when the temperature drops below -20 C, the doors are kept open so people have somewhere warm to stay.
Gray says there’s a consistent group of about 30 to 50 people who come in every day because they have no other choice. Some come straight to Carmichael when they leave the shelter in the morning, while others don’t access the shelters at all. He says once they had someone come in asking for a sleeping bag in -30 C.
While Carmichael has a substantial supply of clothing, thanks to generous donors, warmer winter clothing is always in shorter supply.
“Those key items you know, like big heavy jackets that you need on a day like today, the gloves, the toques, the long underwear – it’s just hard to find that stuff,” Gray said.
When people ask what they can do to help homeless people in the winter, Gray would like to see everyone to ask a broader question about how the community can find a year-round strategy end the need for those emergency supports.
“The thing that comes to our mind when this bitter weather hits, is it’s amazing to see how we can all come together,” he said. “And I think it’s great – I definitely don’t want to be critical of it – and our hope would be that partnership and collaboration extends to really reduce the number of people that are having to experience the brutal weather that’s out there right now.”
Shelters and community-based organizations in Regina have a cold weather strategy that provides extra emergency beds to homeless people to make sure nobody is left out in the cold.
Major Don McDonough is the Executive Director at Salvation Army Waterston Centre.
“We are seeing the numbers increase, particularly in the last number of days,” he said. “We’re not at capacity yet, but we’re getting close to it. We’re also seeing more people come into the front entrance to get warm as they’re walking out and about.”
Waterston Centre has 52 beds available in a dorm for adult men and there were nine empty beds over the weekend. McDonough says they are starting to see a few new people come in, which is common in the coldest months of winter.
He says Salvation Army works in partnership with Mobile Crisis and other community agencies, to fill the gaps for shelter service on colder nights. He says it hasn’t been necessary to roll out the emergency mats for extra beds so far in this milder-than-normal winter.
“In extreme cold weather, if they come to our desk and book in, we will book them in – the only exception would be if the person is violent, because we have to keep the other residents safe,” McDonough explained.
He says this week Salvation Army has also allowed people to stay inside in a sitting room while the dorm is closed during the day.