Winnipeg shelters hitting capacity with cold weather and limited spaces

With frigid temperatures taking a stranglehold on Winnipeg, some of the city’s most vulnerable are still searching for a warm place to sleep at night as some shelters hit capacity.

The Salvation Winnipeg Centre of Hope was completely full Monday night and was forced to turn some people away, said Kristen Burridge, the centre’s director of addictions, emergency and transitional care.

“We’ve actually been for the last few nights when it’s been really cold,” Burridge said. “We’ve been at full capacity.”

Winnipeg temperatures fell to -32.8 C overnight with the wind chill making it feel like -42.

Read more: Extreme cold bears down on southern Manitoba

Tuesday night it’s expected to dip to -35 C but with the wind could feel as cold as -46.

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The centre expects it will hit capacity early again Tuesday once it opens its bookings at 7:30 p.m.

The Salvation Army, like many organizations, is being hit twice as hard right now because it’s had to lower capacity in the building to ensure social distancing to follow public health protocols.

“Typically in the winter we will open up our cold weather beds so instead of having our typical 45 (spots) in the cold weather shelter we could go up to 100 in years past,” she said. “But because of COVID restrictions, we are actually only allowed to have 44 in our emergency shelter.”

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Thirty of those spots are in the dormitory, where people are still required to check in each day or lose their spot. The other 14 are mats, and most often are the only spots available each night.

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“I’m pretty sure that those 14 mats are going to fill up because the dorms are already full,” Burridge said. “So really that’s what we have left for cold weather are those mats.”

A few years ago the three main shelters in the city set up an internal system that allows them to help redirect people to other facilities that still have space.

The Salvation Armey and Main Street Project have both hit capacity but there has been room at Siloam Mission.

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“We were at about three-quarter capacity over the last little while,” communications manager Luke Thiessen said.

Thiessen said they were able to expand shelter space in the spring, which has allowed Siloam to still be able to house around 100 people each night, but even with the cold weather, the organization is seeing below-average numbers.

“So we’re technically below what we would normally be at this time of year in terms of how many people are using the shelter,” he said.

However, he said he believes one reason is that new spaces have opened around the city and it’s been difficult to get an exact picture of what the shelter population and need is right now.

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“It’s a little hard to get a full picture because it’s just not distributed the way it would be normally,” he said.

Thiessen said the government isolation shelters that opened during the pandemic have helped take a bit of the strain off some of the local shelters.

“The fact that the isolation spaces have opened, many of them just in time, just when we needed them,” he said. “As well as other shelters opening new space… That has come as a silver lining of COVID in a sense.”

While Siloam Mission is not currently accepting clothing donations because of COVID-19, it’s still in need of food and monetary donations.

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