Kamloops groups are taking action to help the homeless population as the mercury has plummeted and will remain in the subzero region all week.
The Mustard Seed, downtown at 181 West Victoria St., has expanded its hours in order to help, despite scaling back its hours of operation last October, when it closed on Sundays and Mondays and opened from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Prior to the October change, The Mustard Seed had been open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
“We will be open every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. until the weather gets better,” executive director Mario Borba told KTW on Monday, Jan. 13, as the temperature remains steady at -20 C.
He said the outreach centre was open on Monday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 10 p.m., with staff from the ASK Wellness Centre being brought in to help.
The Mustard Seed also operates a 30-bed cold weather shelter, which had 27 overnight guests on Sunday, Borba said, adding that no one in need of shelter from the cold will be turned away.
Nor will ASK Wellness be turning anyone away from two facilities it has opened this week.
On Sunday, Spero House and Crossroads Inn opened as warming stations as an Arctic front sent temperatures down to dangerous levels. The two locations — 569 Seymour St. downtown and 433 Tranquille Rd. in North Kamloops — are open around the clock until Friday, Jan. 17.
ASK Wellness executive director Bob Hughes told KTW that Spero House hosted 11 overnight guests on Sunday night while there were 18 people warming up at Crossroads.
According to Hughes, there is plenty of room for those seeking refuge from the cold.
With 58 units at Spero House and 50 units at Crossroads, Hughes said he doesn't think each residence hosting a guest or two will be a hindrance. He noted ASK Wellness is focusing on the next four days of anticipated frigid temperatures, as more seasonable weather is in the forecast after that.
“At this point, until there’s another alternative, we will not turn people away,” Hughes said.
Borba said The Mustard Seed hasn’t been too busy during the day thus far, with a total of 18 people spending time at the outreach centre on Sunday and Monday.
“It is surprising for me that I don’t see that many people staying during the day.” Borba said, noting he expected the place to be full, given the extreme cold.
Borba said The Mustard Seed welcomes anyone who can spare some time to volunteer this week.
“It would be nice to have some volunteers there talking with them and making sure they feel welcome as they share their stories,” he said.
Those wishing to volunteer time can call The Mustard Seed at 250-434-9898.
Spero House and Crossroads don’t have mats or beds, but there are couches, chairs and staff on site in both locations for anyone who needs to come inside.
“We had 29 people that otherwise would have potentially had nowhere to go,” Hughes said, noting ASK Wellness has partnered with Kami Cabs to have taxi drivers offer rides to The Mustard Seed, Spero House or Crossroads.
“These guys are the eyes and ears of the community in many ways, and so they’ve stepped up and said, ‘We’re ready to help,’” Hughes said.
CITY FEELS THERE IS ENOUGH BEDS FOR THE VULNERABLE
Asked if the City of Kamloops is doing anything to help the vulnerable during the cold snap, Mayor Ken Christian said the municipality doesn’t operate shelters, but added staff are monitoring the utilization of beds in town in order to explain the need to BC Housing.
“We don’t have the staff to operate a shelter,” Christian said.
He said the city has what it believes is enough bed capacity for the city’s homeless, with up to 180 beds between Emerald House, Mission Flats Manor, Spero House, The Mustard See and The Branch.
Unlike last winter, however, the Out of the Cold program — which offered about 30 mattresses on two nights per week — is not operating after awaiting final approval to open in the Canadian Mental Health Association building downtown at 857 Seymour St.
It’s believed the upgrades required by the city are too costly to the CMHA, leading to the decision not to use the building as a shelter for Out of the Cold.
“You have to make sure that these facilities are going to be safe,” Christian said. “There’s no sense putting people into an unsafe condition.”
PRIVATE RESIDENCE BECOMES TEMPORARY SHELTER
Meanwhile, Kamloops resident and construction worker Gianni Brown has taken it upon himself to start a makeshift cold weather shelter downtown, at a housing complex where he’s doing some work.
Brown said he has permission from the building owner to use the space as a temporary shelter, having started it on the weekend when a friend of his was in need of a place to stay.
Brown said he had a good response from the community upon making an appeal on Facebook for blankets, pillows and canned food to stock the shelter.
“It’s quite a cool thing, all the Kamloopsians, how we all came together,” he said, noting he is not publicizing the location as he is not able to accommodate a lot of people.
Brown said he was expecting to house three people on Monday night.
Environment Canada is forecasting overnight temperatures this week ranging from between -18 C and -25 C.