Cold weather pushes shelter use to capacity

NANAIMO – Homeless are seeking a warm bed and a hot meal during cold spell.

Cold weather shelters are packed to capacity and numbers of people seeking shelter are up over previous years.

The Salvation Army’s New Hope Centre at 19 Nicol St. has 24 beds and takes overflow from other shelters, such as the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo Extreme Weather Shelter when it gets full.

“We have six additional mats that we can put down and we are seeing one or two people come in at night for the overflow as well,” said Jenna Brett, Salvation Army shelter manager.

Kevan Griffith, coordinator for the First Unitarian shelter, located on the corner of Millstone Avenue and Townsite Road, said its beds have been filled since the cold weather started.

The shelter takes a maximum of 25 people and, like the Salvation Army, offers laundry facilities and hot meals.

“Last year in November we were running an average of about 16 [beds full] and this year we’re running an average of about 19,” Griffith said.

Higher numbers could be because it’s easier for people to find them. This year the extreme cold weather shelter received some operating money from the Regional District of Nanaimo, which now puts up posters and distributes brochures listing locations and services for emergency shelters, food banks and soup kitchens.

Violet Hayes, Island Crisis Care Society executive director, which operates Samaritan House emergency shelter for women, said the 12-bed shelter has been at capacity for months.

“So that we’re not turning women out into the streets, we send them over to [extreme weather shelter], but some aren’t willing to go there because there are men there as well, so then we just put mats down in the dining room so that they have a safe place,” Hayes said.

Cpl. Dave LaBerge, head of the Nanaimo RCMP Bike Patrol Unit, said his team has seen a higher street population throughout 2014.

“I don’t think we have any spare beds,” LaBerge said. “A lot of the folks like to go to the extreme weather shelter. They’ll always put a plate of food out for you, even if you show up at 11 o’clock at night, you can drag your shopping cart in there and park it in the corner.”

The extreme weather shelter needs donations of socks, long johns, sweat pants and pyjamas. Please call 250-754-3720.