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Unseasonably cold October weather hard on Vancouver's homeless
Pedestrians walk past a person sleeping on the street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VANCOUVER - Temperatures that broke a 60-year cold weather record in Vancouver are especially harsh for the city's homeless population, according to a local homeless advocate.
Jeremy Hunka with the Union Gospel Mission says cold weather puts people who live on the street at greater risk of getting sick. A cold or flu is much easier to manage when somebody has warm housing to return to at night. But for someone who's homeless, it could turn into a chronic health problem like pneumonia easily.
"This sudden cold weather just slams them," Hunka said. "It really heaps misery on top of misery."
UGM's outreach workers have seen more requests for cold weather gear like jackets, sleeping bags and blankets.
"They are freezing at night," Hunka said. "Some people make dangerous decisions like lighting candles at night to warm a tent with the risk of lighting the tent on fire."
The City of Vancouver has several temporary shelters that it opens every winter. In March, the provincial government approved more operating funding so the city could keep the winter shelters open through the summer until March 31, 2020.
Vancouver also opens Extreme Weather Response shelters when weather alerts are issued by the Homelessness Services Association of BC. They usually open when temperatures are near 0 C with heavy rain, when there's sleet or freezing rain, when snow accumulates, when there's high wind and when temperatures feel like they're 0 C or below with a wind chill.
Laura Mathews, spokesperson for BC Housing, said the EWR shelters typically begin opening Nov.1, but can sometimes open earlier. She added staff are working to open the Salvation Army's Harbour Light Chapel temporary shelter, which sleeps 40, as early as the end of next week. It's not an EWR shelter, but will open nightly regardless of the temperature.
Hunka said the UGM shelter had to turn 12 people away Wednesday night because it was full. He added the organization is accepting donations of gently used winter clothing gear.
In Vancouver, thermometers dipped to 0.8 C Wednesday, colder than the previous record that day of 2.8 C which had stood since 1960.
According to Environment Canada, the average historical low in Vancouver for the second week of October is 7 C.
With files from the Canadian Press