Additional shelter beds have opened in Kamloops as bone-chilling temperatures persist through the week.
Temperatures in Kamloops have dropped into the minus-20s overnight, with highs in the minus teens during the day — and the cold is forecast to continue through the weekend.
On Tuesday (Feb. 9), the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association opened an overflow 50-bed shelter at Memorial Arena to keep up with high demand, combat the cold snap and maintain compliance with COVID-19 distancing protocols.
The CMHA opened an initial 50-bed cold weather shelter at the end of January that had averaged about 48 attendees per night prior to this week’s cold snap, acting CMHA executive director Alfred Achoba told KTW.
That first night at Memorial yielded 21 overnight guests and 10 more who just dropped in to warm up, he said. Memorial was chosen to keep the 50 bed units distanced enough to meet COVID-19 protocols.
The Memorial Arena shelter, however, is weather-dependent and is expected to close by the middle of next week when temperatures should rise, Achoba said. Asked if the shelter could remain open even without the extreme cold, he said, “if that’s the need of the community and the city and our funders, we have the capacity to keep going.”
He said part of closing the shelter would involve relocating individuals to other spaces in town.
The CMHA has a commitment not to turn anyone away and will make arrangements for people who need to get out of the cold at other locations where they have beds that may be vacant for a night, such as at Rosenthorn House and Emerald Centre.
Achoba said the CMHA can use donations of winter clothing and blankets for people to take with them when they leave the shelter.
“There’s still a number of people who choose to sleep outside [as well]. They may come indoors for food, so we’d like to hand out blankets to them and winter clothing to keep them warm,” Achoba said.
The shelter brings the number of beds in Kamloops to 160 — 50 at Memorial Arena, 40 at the Emerald Centre, 20 at the Mustard Seed, 50 at the Kamloops Curling Club, all of which are downtown.
But there is also space on the North Shore for 20 people to get warm at the Out Of The Cold warming centre sat 405A Tranquille Rd.
Out Of The Cold executive director Dina Lambright said the warming centre has been offering people a place to stay overnight on Saturdays since the end of October.
“But because of the extreme weather this week, we have mobilized a bunch of staff and we’re open three nights,” Lambright said.
People can access Out Of The Cold this Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for a hot meal, coffee and winter gear.
Lambright said the The Loop community resource centre, which shares the space, has also extended its hours this week.
She said Out Of The Cold has reached capacity — 20 due to COIVD-19 protocols — the last few Saturday nights, with between eight and 10 people staying all night. She said they have been serving about 50 to 60 meals each night.
Out Of The Cold is operating until March 31.
Lambright said she has also noticed more of the North Shore’s homeless individuals who don’t typically access the resource now accessing it.
“It’s been a challenging week for folks,” Lambright said.
Achoba said he expects shelter demand to remain high for weeks, noting much of the demand he has seen involves an elderly population that has been homeless for a long time.
While COVID-19 has kept a cap on attendance — for example, the Emerald Centre can usually house 55 shelter guests rather than the current 40 — a silver lining has been the ability to devote more time to each person’s individual needs at a time when COVID-19 has hampered social services.
This week, Kamloops is expected to experience lows of -23 C on Thursday and -16 C on Friday, rising slightly to -10 C on the weekend.