Combatting the cold: How Kamloops’ homeless manage when the temperature gets dangerously low

On frigid days, even the smallest things can give hope to those on the streets

Tarps and blankets recently hung from a fence next to a staircase in the city’s downtown, surrounded by bikes, backpacks and clothing.

By now, there’s likely nothing left.

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Two people hunkered down inside the makeshift shelter — temporary relief set up to withstand the frigid temperatures on a cold morning in Kamloops.

Another three people could be found congregating outside the tent.

Two of them — a man and woman — peered through handkerchiefs worn on their faces to combat the cold.

The woman, who goes by the nickname Shotgun, which she has tattooed on her knuckles, was busy sorting through her belongings as another group began gathering down the walkway.

The three friends have been homeless for years.

For them, surviving the bitter cold spell that followed an unseasonably warm winter is all about being adaptable.

“It’s really cold — freezing cold,” said Shotgun, a lifelong Kamloops resident.

“This [makeshift tent] was put up just a couple hours ago just to stay warm and it’ll come down.”

The materials for it were collected from around town, she said.

Shotgun and some friends were caught in a windstorm when the cold snap began a few days ago.

They got creative with their bikes and used them to make a shelter to ride out the storm.

“It was pretty intense and we were freezing cold,” she said. “We had some blankets in our bags and we found plastic kicking around, so we just built it.”

“We adapt,” said her 27-year-old male companion, who did not wish to give his name.

The wind chill can be difficult to deal with, but he tries to keep moving to stay warm.

Wearing layers and knowing where the resources are in town are key, he told KTW, noting he utilizes The Mustard Seed New Life Community drop-in centre and the Out of the Cold shelter at Nicola Street and Fourth Avenue.

“There are places that will help you,” he said.

The third friend, who goes by the name Lacey — not her real name — said she also spent Monday night outside.

Vallis homeless
Mike Vallis is among the Kamloops homeless population dealing with the brutal cold this week. He spoke about his experience with Kamloops This Week reporter Michael Potestio on Tuesday morning. - Dave Eagles/KTW

“Just been trying to stay warm,” she said. “You get used to it.”

Mike Vallis, who passed by the encampment and spoke with KTW before moving on along West Victoria Street, has been homeless for about four years, having moved to Kamloops from the Lower Mainland last March.

With a smile on his face and sporting a gold tooth, Vallis said this is the coldest winter he can recall experiencing.

His advice: wear plenty of clothing, make sure you have dry mittens and learn what resources are out there to assist you.

He cited meals at New Life and its winter refuge shelter, which is one of the few places he can access 24/7, as important resources to help the homeless escape the cold.

Vallis also has a tent set up along Schubert Drive, which he said can be difficult to leave when hunkered down and trying to get warm during cold spells like the current one that has gripped the province.

He said he spent more than an entire day inside his tent recently.

“Yesterday I slept for 30 hours. I wake up and it was so cold I just had a bite to eat and went back to sleep,” Vallis said.

As for Shotgun and her friends, nights are typically spent accessing a shelter in town.

During the day, they ride out the cold as best they can at spots like the makeshift camp — a popular location to use drugs, she said.

The hardest part of being homeless, however, is the cold, judgmental public perception that comes with it, Shotgun said.

“We realize that there are people leaving dirty needles places and we recognize that is a huge problem, and us ourselves are trying to come up with a solution because we don’t agree with it either,” Shotgun said, noting she wants to create a group so addicts can start giving back by cleaning up problem areas.

Shotgun said she feels such an endeavour could help change public perception.

She said she felt a lot of compassion from the public at Christmas when a woman gave her a box of chocolates. She said she had been feeling “down and out” at the time and started crying when she received them.

“The smallest thing gave me hope,” she said, noting the smile of a passerby or the chirp of a bird looking one’s way can give you that feeling. “It’s weird what gives you hope.”

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