Even in warmth, they come Out of the Cold
It’s a quiet Wednesday night in the basement of St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown Kamloops.
Around a large, makeshift dinner table, thee middle-aged men are enjoying a bowl of steaming soup.
It’s just after 7 p.m.
The doors to the church and the Out of the Cold shelter have just opened for another night.
The weather is balmy for the end of December, so program volunteers aren’t expected to be all that busy this evening.
Lee Charlton has been a volunteer with the annual program for five years.
He said there hasn’t been a full night in two years.
Charlton believes it could be the weather, or simply those in need are finding other places to go.
“It’s a good thing,” he said.
“Kamloops seems to take care of the needy.”
That’s been the trend the entire winter so far.
The shelter, which has a capacity of 28, runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays and offers its guests an evening meal — hot soup and a bun — and a warm breakfast.
The shelter will stay open daily whenever the temperature drops below -10 C. The shelter has only had to stay open two extra days.
Last week, the city broke high-temperature records on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29. As the mercury stays high, the number of people using the program continues to drop each year.
In 2009, an average of 17 people used it, with the number dropping to 14 in 2010.
This year, the Out of the Cold program, which is organized by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, is greeting about 13 people per night.
Ron Tronson, the program’s co-ordinator, said he isn’t sure why the numbers are dropping, surmising it could be the warm weather, but perhaps something else.
He suggested there might not be the need there once was, crediting the work by a number of social agencies and the city in keeping people off the streets.
“It’s definitely positive,” Tronson said.
“The one thing about Kamloops, it [the number of homeless] is going the right way.”
There is evidence to back up the theory.
This year’s calculation of the homeless population is less than half what it was in 2010. In October, volunteers found 45 homeless people as part of the 2011 Kamloops Homeless Count.
In 2010, volunteers counted 105 absolute homeless.
However, it doesn’t mean the program isn’t being used.
Rockin’ Ronny, who didn’t want to use his real name, said he has his own place to stay, but visits church for the meal and company of the friendly volunteers and other patrons.
“I like this place,” he said, noting he’s never spent the night.
Originally from Lillooet, but a Kamloops resident for 25 years, Ronny said he only started dropping in at the shelter this year.
He has his own blunt take on why the program may not be as popular as years past.
Ronny said many people on the streets know the Out of the Cold shelter is available, but their pride stops them from coming.
“It’s their stupidity if they don’t come here,” he said.
However, even Ronny admits he was a bit shy when he first showed up.
When the weather does take a turn for the worse, volunteers like Charlton note the shelter will get pretty full.
Even if the number of people using the shelter aren’t what they once were, Tronson pledged the program will stay open the rest of season.
“It’s still a life-saver,” he said.