Cold snap: How shelters are helping the most vulnerable

With extreme cold temperatures set to hit the capital, area shelters are stepping up efforts to help keep the homeless warm.

The Mobile Outreach Team at the Salvation Army is stocking their van with items like socks, underwear, sweaters, hand-warmers and sleeping bags, preparing to drive around the city, handing out the supplies to people on the streets.

“We specifically look for street-sleeping individuals,” says Melissa Montgomery, a Mobile Outreach team member. ”There’s a lot of people in need, that may not be able to help themselves stay warm or find a place to stay.”

When the temperature drops below -35 degrees Celsius, the outreach team works 24-hours-a-day, doing everything they can to ensure the city’s homeless are safe.

“It’s important because people don't access shelter services,” says Kristen MacDonald, Manager, Outreach Services. “So for the people who aren’t, or who need to travel from an emergency shelter service to a medical service or another place that’s safe for them we do offer a transportation service as well.”

The Ottawa Mission is also preparing for the cold spell. Their focus over the coming days is to get as many people inside their shelter as possible, setting up mats in the chapel and making space in the lobby for guests to get out of the cold.

“On any given night there could be between 70 to 100 people sleeping rough, sleeping on the street,” explains CEO Peter Tilley. “We need affordable housing, we need rooms and units to move people into ... a lot of the people sleeping outside could be sleeping in the shelter if we could house some of the other people into affordable housing.”

City council voted unanimously on January 29 to declare affordable housing and homelessness an emergency in the city.

“We’ve been in an emergency for some time,” explains Tilley, whose shelter has been over-capacity for years. “People think of an emergency as a flood, a tornado or another disaster like that, this had been a gradual climb, but we’re certainly in a state of emergency there is just no housing in Ottawa.”