Penticton’s homeless find shelter from the cold

Cold Snap Inn provides refuge for city's homeless when extreme weather hits.

Pastor Dennis Cyr (left) of Cheers the Church talks with Montana (centre) and Corey at the Main Street alleyway entrance of the Cold Snap Inn program at the church this we week. Frigid temperatures can be fatal to those who cannot find a place to stay warm.

Most winter nights Corey can be found huddled in the doorway of a downtown business or stairway with only the clothes on his back to keep him warm.

But not this week.

Frigid overnight temperatures below-zero  have forced him and other homeless people to seek shelter inside.

Monday night Corey and his two friends Jason, who uses a wheelchair, and Montana joined a number of others in the basement quarters of Cheers the Church on Main Street.

“It’s really important, I mean seriously, we sleep on the street and when the temperatures get like this we just have to have somewhere to go to help us,” said Corey (who asked his last name not be used). Tuesday morning while in the alleyway behind the church as the three were preparing to start their day. “I think we’re very, very fortunate to have people like this helping us because how many of us our going to survive in weather like this? Not many it’s pretty bad out there.

“I don’t think a lot of people know what it’s like being out there. We just try to survive the best we can, so it really does mean a lot to have someone care enough.”

This is the second round of well than below normal conditions that has prompted the opening of what has become known as the Cold Snap Inn. Extreme weather conditions are expected to continue for at least the next few days which will likely keep the program in operation.

“The risk of weather like this is life threatening, which is the purpose of running the extreme weather shelter. We want to ensure that people have a good warm place to be so we can prevent death,” said Linda Sankey of the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society which now looks after the administrative functions of the program. “Those who are without a place to live have the same value as everyone else in our society, they just have fewer resources. You never know what happens to these individuals who are in the place they’re at and we’re just trying to help them out the best we can.”

The society has been involved with the concept of providing emergency shelter for the homeless from the beginning, even housing some street people in one of its group counselling rooms at first.

“SOSBIS had never been in the business of sheltering before so it makes sense to allow those who have the experience with the shelters to do that,” said Sankey.

Hot meals, access to showers, laundry facilities, and just as important companionship are provided. A society homeless outreach staff member attends the church on those nights when it is in use.

“His role is to attend and just make connections with those people to try and find them permanent housing so when the cold snap ends we can find something for them,” said Sankey. “I know that there are still those people out there who don’t want to come off the street but it is important to build that relationship to know where to go if they do change their mind.”

With many cold months still in front of us, she is urging the public to donate warm clothing and blankets at the society office at 996 Main St., Cheers the Church or the Salvation Army office.