In a winter with deeper freezes, heavy snow and an increased homeless population, the operator of Penticton’s cold snap shelter is calling the new space a “godsend.”
Just in time for the first winter storm of the year in November, the Salvation Army opened up nearly 30 shelter bed spaces at Compass Court, the former Super 8 motel being converted into numerous low-barrier services.
The shelter adds 27 beds to the stock of shelter space in Penticton, where last year just the 17 available at Compass House, now being used as a regular shelter.
“Overall, she’s running well. For the last couple of nights, it’s been at capacity or just below capacity, and we’ve had the overflow over at Compass House,” Evans said. “We don’t need (Compass House) every night, but with this cold weather, more people are coming in, so we’ve had to use the overflow.”
Temperatures dropped to a record low in Penticton overnight Monday, at -18.6 C, toppling the record for that day at -18 C set in 1986. That was followed by another chilly Okanagan night, with Penticton dipping to -17.9 C Tuesday overnight.
At the same time, representatives from 100 Homes Penticton presented their newest estimate from the homeless count Tuesday afternoon in council, noting a jump from about 130 homeless individuals to around 160.
“It’s a godsend. I don’t know where these people would have been had it not been open this year, because this is really cold,” Evans said.
“I don’t remember it being this cold (last year), either. But we haven’t had to turn anybody away, which is a good thing. Even if we do reach capacity here in beds, we can put seven cots out.”
Beyond the overflow at Compass House and the extra seven cots they can put out, Evans said there’s yet another backup plan in case they see even more traffic coming in.
“What we will do is we’ll bring people in anyway. They’ll just have to have a seat on a chair or a couch or something like that. We just can’t put them into beds. But we’ll bring them in out of the cold,” Evans said.
With a hot meal at night and breakfast to get them started in the morning, Evans said he thinks people are appreciating the extra shelter space — something South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society executive director Linda Sankey agrees with.
“It’s been very well utilized,” she said. “I know that they are relying heavily on it, and the fact that they have it to rely on relieves a huge burden from them, so in that sense, yes, there is great gratitude. Although it’s difficult to live communally with so many other people, it’s still giving them a warm place and with warm meals a couple of times a day.”