Winnipeg shelters band together to help those hardest hit by extreme cold

When the temperature drops into a deep freeze, most Manitobans bundle up or stay indoors — doing what they can to keep away the cold.

But what about those who don’t have the appropriate gear, or have nowhere to go to survive the Winnipeg winter?

Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud, Executive Director of 1JustCity – which offers an emergency warming centre called Just A Warm Sleep – said meeting the needs of the city’s most vulnerable residents in extreme winter weather requires a coordinated effort by Winnipeg’s shelters and homeless charities.

“I really think there’s a lot of grassroots and community initiatives to respond to this need,” Blaikie-Whitecloud told 680 CJOB Wednesday afternoon.

“We see 700 people each week in our soup kitchens. There’s not enough beds for those folks, there’s not enough resources.”

“For us, we know that when we reach out, the other shelters are helpful, and when they reach out, we try to do the same.”

Blaikie-Whitecloud said she’s seeing a large number of Winnipeggers reaching out to help make an impact, but thinks the general public often misunderstands the plight of the homeless.

“A common phrase is ‘why aren’t they working?’ But so many of our guests at Just A Warm Sleep have full-time jobs,” she said.

“I think part of the struggle is that they need housing that can be affordable.”

The Just A Warm Sleep pop-up emergency warming centre will be open throughout the winter in Osborne Village.

Luke Thiessen of Siloam Mission says January is typically a slow month as far as clothing donations to the downtown humanitarian organization are concerned.

“For us, on a daily basis we have lineups for our clothing room,” Thiessen told 680 CJOB Thursday.

“If people are going through their closets or just looking at a way to spread some generosity, we’re always in need of warm winter gear, especially if it’s parkas and boots and mitts and warm winter clothing like that.”

Thiessen said Siloam’s 110-bed shelter is almost always full year-round, and the cold weather means there are more people who have to be redirected to other shelters and agencies.

While that’s tough, he said, Siloam has a good working relationship with a network of other local shelters to make sure no one has to spend the night outside in -30C weather.

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