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Mild weather helps B.C. shelters keep up with winter demand

Last Updated Jan 14, 2019 at 3:11 pm PDT

File Photo. (iStock Photo)

Despite mild weather, some Vancouver shelters are still at capacity

Warmer weather could leave many on the street unprepared for a sudden drop in temperature

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Homeless shelters in the province appear to be handling the demand as winter temperatures stay on the mild side, but some have still had to turn people back into the cold.

The City of Vancouver opened three extra shelter locations Sunday night as overnight lows dipped below zero, and temperatures are forecast to drop back below the freezing mark on Monday and Tuesday as well.

“As far as temporary shelters, we’re the only one in Whalley here, and have 50 beds, and we are turning people away every night,” said Amber Neufeld, director of special initiatives for Surrey Urban Mission.

“I know there’s been quite a few nights where we’ve come in the morning and found people sitting outside the building struggling with hypothermia — we’ve had to call the ambulance.”

Neufeld adds that newly-opened modular housing spaces in the neighbourhood have helped, and more buildings have opened up to accommodate their clients in recent weeks. But she says there is still a lack of spaces for people to go and warm up, especially during daylight hours.

The Salvation Army operates 18 shelters across the province, plus 126 emergency shelter beds in the Lower Mainland. The organization’s Mike Leland says unlike Surrey Urban Mission, none of their shelters have had to turn people away this year.

“Compared to last year… we’ve seen less of an influx of people, and that is directly due to the mild temperatures we’ve had,” he said.

RELATED: Wintry weather putting a strain on some local shelters

But Jeremy Hunka with Union Gospel Mission (UGM) in Vancouver says the warmer weather may leave many on the street unprepared for a sudden drop in temperature.

“When there’s no snow earlier in the year and it’s more mild, people don’t have the gear, they aren’t necessarily taking the precautions they need to keep themselves safe during the winter,” he said. “They’re still getting ill, and they are still taking risks like lighting a candle to keep warm in their tents.”

Hunka adds demand for cold weather items distributed by UGM, such as sleeping bags and jackets, has doubled since the fall.

The organization’s 72-bed permanent shelter was full Sunday night, and near-capacity most nights prior.