Shelter use remains low through recent cold spell

The sting of cold weather and wet conditions in Greater Trail hasn’t resulted in more people using the homeless shelter in Trail.

The sting of cold weather and wet conditions in Greater Trail hasn’t resulted in more people using the homeless shelter in Trail.

But Trail United Church diaconal minister Keith Simmons, who co-chairs the La Nina Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter committee, says the location of the facility may be why only an average of about three people are spending the night.

“When it’s cold and wet, making their way across to East Trail is less desirable than even couch surfing with a friend or sleeping in a hallway,” explained Simmons, adding that most marginally housed individuals spend their time downtown or in West Trail. “One of the things we’ve noticed with folks, too, is that they don’t have anywhere to go during the day.”

While this year’s plan is to maintain the services offered at the shelter located in the basement of the Salvation Army Church, Simmons said conversations of a drop-in day centre are underway along with talks of a potential new downtown spot that could serve individuals during the day and overnight.

“What were looking at right now is to try and give people a place to be during the day so at least they wouldn’t have to stay on the street and pack their stuff all over the place,” he said. “Some place to come in and have coffee, get warm and comfortable.”

Formerly know as a cold weather emergency shelter, the facility operated for the first time last winter from Feb. 1 to March 21, opening up 37 times on nights when the temperature was expected to drop below freezing.

This year, the committee, sponsored by the United Church, secured over $55,000 from BC Housing to keep the shelter open from 9 p.m. to 8 .am. until March 31, regardless of the weather forecast.

The operation now has 14 workers – two working a shift each night – who make sure those stopping in are comfortable, as well as an outreach worker, who connects those who spend the night to essentials like food, medical care and income assistance.

Though the number of people frequenting the facility doesn’t point to a large population of homeless people in Greater Trail, Simmons still believes that the facility’s limitations aren’t attracting the number of people in the community that truly need a warm bed at night.

The ad-hoc committee conducted a survey at the United Church food bank and at community dinners to determine the need for a year-round shelter in Trail last spring and received a strong response from the community.

An overwhelming majority of the 80 questionnaires they received back said the respondents know of someone who is homeless.

“The anecdotal report we got from people at the food bank and at the downtown dinners is that there’s a fairly significant population of people who are just hanging on the edges,” said Simmons.