Concern as homeless numbers continue to rise

By Tanya Cronin
December 2, 2015 - 5:14pm Updated: December 2, 2015 - 6:12pm

KAMLOOPS — There is more evidence tonight of Kamloops' growing homeless population. November was an extremely busy month for shelters in the city which have been forced to run at or over capacity. Cold weather over the past few weeks has made it difficult for those living outdoors, with many of them turning to the Emerald Centre and the Out of the Cold program for refuge from the bitter elements. The number of people accessing shelters is higher than ever.

The start of Winter may still be more than two weeks away, but bone-chilling temperatures hit early and hard this year, keeping Kamloops shelters busier' than ever.

"Over the last 15 days that we've been activated, we've seen anywhere from 3 extra individuals per night, up to 23 last night." Said Christa Mullally, Executive Director of the CMHA.

The Emerald Centre opens its doors when the overnight temperature dips to -7 °c or lower. This season the shelter activated its emergency weather response on November 18 and has been running over capacity, a stark contrast to November 2014, when the busiest night saw ten people.

"We have 28 extreme weather response shelter beds available here, if there is more that show up at front doors looking for shelter, we'll take them in and find a warm dry place for them to stay that night," says Mullaly.

At St. Paul's Cathedral, the Out of the Cold program is also bursting at the seams. The haven for people in need of a hot meal and a warm place to sleep, opens twice a week and in nearly ten years of operation, the numbers have never been so high

“Last Wednesday, we had 54 people come in, 28 people stay over. That's really three more than we can handle but we managed to squeeze them in," said Bud Forbes, Board Chair of the Out of the Cold program.

“This is a little unusual for it to get this cold in Kamloops this early in the year. I think that has something to do with it, but definitely there's about 25 or so guys still sleeping outside,” according to Ken Salter with the ASK Wellness Society.

This year's homeless count conducted in October found 108 people living outdoors - 80 men and 28 women - in tents along the riverbank and on city streets. ASK Wellness officials say the population of hidden homeless brings the numbers up to 250.

“Rents are going up, and what ministry gives for shelter purposes isn't adequate, you cannot rent a place for $375 a month, and as rents go up there are less places our clients can afford." Salter said.

When cold weather hits, it can be a matter of life or death for some. Shelters are always looking for donations of coats, socks, warm clothing and personal hygiene products. Over the next few days temperatures are expected to warm up above the freezing mark, giving the city's most vulnerable a reprieve from the bitter elements.

Climate change conference renews local optimism