The second of two BC Housing winter shelter locations in Kamloops will open Tuesday night (Nov. 8) — but it is only guaranteed to remain in service this week to combat an ongoing cold snap. The city has announced that The Mustard Seed will operate BC Housing’s cold weather shelter location at the Yacht Club on Lorne Street for the week, and potentially longer if the non-profit can identify additional staffing capacity. The site is also equipped with additional warming space for those that do not have a bed, but still need to escape the freezing temperatures.
Byron McCorkell, the city’s community and protective services director, told KTW that following the week of operation the Mustard Seed will review if it can sustain operating the shelter. The space was intended to be open this winter alongside the Stuart Wood location, which is now open seven days a week, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., through March 31 of next year.
The Yacht Club provides 19 beds for those still living without shelter during winter weather. The facility has two washrooms, a shower and a small kitchen. The Mustard Seed plans to provide a meal during the evening intake, and breakfast in the morning. The space will act as an overflow to the waitlist for the main operations of The Mustard Seed, the non-profit said in a release. Four full-time staff from The Mustard Seed will operate the shelter along with one City of Kamloops staff member who will provide on-site security.
“A big thank you to The Mustard Seed for stepping up in this emergency situation to operate this shelter and to the other agencies for supporting this effort,” McCorkell said in a city press release.
On Monday evening, the city announced BC Housing and the Out of the Cold shelter organization (OOTC) signed a contract that will see the organization operate its 25-bed winter shelter at Stuart Wood. The shelter opened that night at capacity, according to a press release form ASK Wellness. There is also some seated warming space available within the shelter at the former school at Third Avenue and St. Paul Street that accommodated another 23 people, according to the municipality.
The city secured the Yacht Club and Stuart Wood locations for BC Housing's winter shelters and the local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association was expected to operate the two sites beginning Nov. 1, but pulled out in mid-October. That left a week-long gap in service in which shelter providers have been scrambling to make alternate arrangements as winter conditions take hold. During that time, other social agencies have been taking the initiative to house the city’s homeless overnight.
Cold weather shelter in demand
Glenn Hilke travelled around town on Sunday night looking for people on the streets, as a blizzard descended upon the city.
“It was horrific,” Hilke, co-organizer of The Loop drop-in centre, said. “[I was] finding people in wheelchairs that were at risk of dying, people laying on the ground not able to move anymore.”
Hilke said The Loop, which is run by community volunteers, sheltered 47 people on Sunday and transported another 11 to the emergency room at Royal Inland Hospital. He said permanent shelters run by The Mustard Seed and CMHA were full. The Loop began opening overnight last week, with the season’s first snowfall. Hilke said 25 people stayed overnight on Thursday, followed by 30 on Friday and 32 Saturday.
ASK Wellness meanwhile opened 24-seven warming stations at Spero House in North Kamloops and Crossroads Inn downtown for the week on Monday afternoon.
In a press release, ASK Wellness said the acute need for resources was evident in the number of people accessing winter shelter services on Monday as temperatures dipped below freezing, noting there were 162 people in shelters between CMHA and Mustard Seed on Monday.
According to statistics from the social agency, 26 people accessed their warming shelter at Spero House on Tranquille Road and another 20 were at the Crossroads location. The warming stations will remain open until Friday (Nov.11), operating 24 hours a day so long as there is enough staff to duo so. Donations of new or used blankets and winter clothing are still being accepted.
Emergency declaration was considered
The city’s CAO, David Trawin, told KTW McCorkell had been looking into the city’s option of issuing a state of emergency. Trawin said the city hasn’t declared a state of emergency of this nature in the past.
“Now typically we don’t want to do that unless it’s something that’s absolutely necessary to be done, which is why we’re trying to determine how many beds we have and how many we don’t,” Trawin said.
Overnight temperatures in Kamloops are expected to reach below -10 C this week before warming to -5 C by Friday.
BC Housing communications director Laura Mathews told KTW on Friday shelter operators for the Kamloops sites were near confirmation.
“It is increasingly unsafe for anyone to be sleeping outdoors as temperatures in Kamloops continue to dip,” Mathews said. “We understand the immediate need to open new indoor shelter spaces and are working as quickly as possible to get sites up and running safely, as finding a shelter operator with capacity and skilled staff to support this vulnerable population is challenging.”
Mathews said BC Housing has the sites and funding secured, but the delay has been finding experienced operators with capacity to take on the sites.
If you see someone on the street who looks like they could use a hand, call the city’s community services department at 250-828-3409.
KTW reached out to Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson for comment but did not hear back.
The addition of the Yacht Club shelter brings to 209 the total number of shelter beds in town, according to the city. There are 25 beds at Stuart Wood, 40 at Emerald Centre, 22 at The Mustard Seed, 12 at Harbour House, 50 at Merit Place and 41 at Moira House, all of which are operating at capacity.
The City of Kamloops' April 2021 point-in-time count identified 206 people in Kamloops experiencing homelessness, but that is widely considered an undercount as it does not include those who are precariously housed or have a temporary place to stay at the time of the count.
—This story was updated at 5:38 to add more information from the City of Kamloops and Mustard Seed.