As the temperature plummets in the Central Okanagan, places offering a warm, indoor bed for the night in Kelowna are getting busier.
While the local organizations that provide those beds have not had to invoke their cold weather protocol yet because not all available spaces have been filled, organizations like Inn From The Cold are seeing their numbers increase.
Tara Tschritter, Inn From The Cold’s co-ordintor said Wednesday night the shelter had 33 people, three of whom had dogs with them, just short of the 35-person capacity. In January, the organization normally averages about 28 people per night.
“We did see a bit of a drop in our numbers in November,” said Tschritter, noting the milder than usual start to the winter likely contributed to that. “But we were up in December.”
With 2012 kicking off with sub-zero degree temperatures at night, the recent snowfall and the predictions of more cold weather at night on the way, as well as a thermometer that has struggled to climb above 0 C during the day lately, expectations are the number of people seeking shelter from the cold will increase.
Tschritter said while some homeless people stay outside as long as possible, when it gets as cold as it has been on recent nights, even many of the diehards are forced to inside.
The majority of shelter beds in Kelowna are provided by the Gospel Mission downtown, which provides nightly accommodation for men and women, NOW Canada’s Alexandra Gardiner House in the Mission, which provides beds for women and their children and Inn From The Cold on Sutherland Avenue, which accepts both men and women, and their pets.
When the temperature drops to dangerously cold levels, all local organizations that provide beds contact one another to co-ordinate shelter spaces and when all are full, additional beds are opened up using mats on floors in other locations, to meet the need.
Tschritter said the cold weather protocol has has not been initiated so far this winter, mainly because of the recent increase in the number of beds available at the Gospel Mission.
While Inn From The Cold has nine staff members who man shifts at the shelter during the night, it relies heavily on its army of volunteers and the donations it receives from the public. In addition to one staff member on during each nightly shift, six volunteers are required to help. Without the volunteers, the shelter cannot open.
Inn From the Cld also offers a “free store” to its guests, somewhere they can find donated clothing to help them keep warm when they are outside.
Tschritter said there is currently a need for items such as large men’s winter jackets, as well as warm socks, thermal underwear, hats and gloves for both men and women.
But it is not just the cold weather that is a concern for Inn From The Cold.
In addition to the shelter, the local organization also runs a program that helps people who have found transition housing learn to live on their own.
That program requires volunteers to help teach the life skills that are required to make the transition from the streets to a life inside easier.
Anyone interested in volunteering, or to made a donation, can get more information by going to the Inn From The Cold website at innfromthecoldkelowna.org.