With more people living on the streets than there are shelter beds available in town, options are increasing for them to warm up.
“I arrived early to work one day this week to find someone huddled under a blanket sleeping in the entrance way to our building,” said Leanne Hammond, executive director of Community Foundation North Okanagan (CFNO). “It’s heartbreaking to see people sleeping on the cold concrete – in the winter it’s beyond heartbreaking, it’s dangerous.”
The Upper Room Mission’s day shelter will be extending its hours to stay open past the regular 4 p.m. closing time, for the next 12 weeks, thanks to $15,000 from CFNO. The funding allows the Mission to stay open until 8 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and extend their weekend hours to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I am so grateful for the support we are receiving from Community Foundation North Okanagan. It is extremely rough out there for those living on our streets and in our parks. It hurts me every day to close our doors, knowing people must stay in the cold and survive. It’s a blessing to keep our doors open longer,” said Jacco de Vin, Mission manager.
The additional hours at the Mission will also support the plans in place for cold snaps during the winter. When the temperatures hit -10, Turning Points Collaborative Society can activate the warming bus that operates overnight, so that people can warm up, and get a hot drink and a snack, when the Upper Room Mission is closed. This will take pressure off the Shelter, by ensuring that there are enough alternate spaces for people to warm up.
People living outside in sub-zero temperatures are at increased risk of frostbite, hypothermia and a weakened immune system. Folks simply cannot remain outside in these harsh conditions.
The cold weather arrived early this year and it has magnified the ongoing need for housing support in the North Okanagan.
While the number of shelter beds has increased since 2019 and the number of new affordable housing units has also grown in the past year – the demand still exceeds the supply. This reflects the housing crisis happening in communities right across the province.
In November 2022, Vernon bylaw reported that at least 100 people were sleeping rough outside on the streets and in our parks with no place to call home, up from the 2021 study that reported 54 people living rough in Vernon.
Shelters across the province are operating at capacity, causing people to get turned away as there are simply not enough beds.
CFNO is hoping donors will step up to help the cause. To contribute to the costs of keeping our most vulnerable citizens out of the cold give to the Better Together Fund at CFNO at cfno.org/bettertogetherfund, or contact Hammond at email@example.com or 250-542-8655.