As many as 50 homeless people have sought shelter from the frigid night air at the Cold Snap Inn during the recent spell of icy temperatures.
As late as Wednesday, Pastor Dennis Cyr of the downtown Cheers The Church was again getting things ready for anyone in need of a hot meal and a roof over their heads.
“Yes, we had about eight visitors last night,” said Cyr Thursday morning. “It’s hard to say if there are actually more homeless people now, I think what happened is because we ran so many days in a row it sort of gains momentum. You only have a couple people the first few nights and then word gets out.
“As well, sometimes what happens is if one guy has a house he’ll let four or five of his friends stay with him during the cold weather, there is a community and they have bonds and relationships.”
The pastor added there is another segment of the street population who do not seek shelter at any time.
“For whatever reason they decide not to come by but for those who do, it’s a lot easier to sleep knowing that these people don’t have to be outside,” said Cyr.
For the past two years Cheers has been working in conjunction with the Salvation Army in operating the organization’s emergency shelter program.
According to David Lundquist of Environment Canada’s Kelowna office, since Dec. 4 the low temperatures have reached minus double digits every day up to and including Tuesday, with the exception of last Monday.
During that period the coldest temperature was -13.8 on Dec. 7. Despite the cold, no new records were set.
The forecast is for a gradual warming trend.
Previously The Cold Snap Inn had alternated between several churches until finding a permanent home at Cheers.
“We’re a very young church and we’re very excited about doing this, especially working with the Salvation Army because nobody knows better then they do when it comes to helping people,” said Cyr, whose brother Joey is the Salvation Army’s community services supervisor and also a pastor at Cheers.
The Cold Snap Inn offers a total of 20 cots for men and women (in separate rooms), but according to Cyr nobody gets turned away.
The program, which was only offered twice last year, goes from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“When we’re running we send out an email to a bunch of service providers in town like the RCMP and fire department and the Soupateria and they put up a sign to let people know,” said Cyr. “We have a shower area and laundry so people can get cleaned up if they want to and we also have clothing if they require some, it just depends on their needs.”
Staff will sometimes try to help match guests with any other services in the city from which they may benefit such as the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society.
According to the pastor, for the most part, those who receive the help, even if it is just a place to come in out of the cold and enjoy a little companionship, are very appreciative.
So far this year the Inn has been open on two separate occasions, the most recent one, and for a brief period in November.
Part of the money for this winter’s program came in the form of funding for 20 shelter spaces from the provincial government.
Extreme weather shelters supplement the more than 1,800 permanent, year-round shelter beds available in B.C., more than double the number of beds that were available in 2001.
Under the umbrella of the Penticton and District Community Resources Society, the Salvation Army also operates Compass House, a men’s transitional facility.
Open 24 hours, it provides personal assistance, counselling services, addiction program referral, housing and education.
Along with the Salvation Army, help for Penticton’s less fortunate is also provided by a number of other organizations and churches on a year-round basis.