As the bitter cold temperatures and extreme wind chill warnings continue, several Brandon churches have agreed to open their doors and become overnight shelters for those in desperate need.
The Brandon Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter was launched Monday night.
"This is for people who are outside and have no options," said Marla Somersall, executive director of Samaritan House Ministries.
The shelter is an initiative organized by a variety of community agencies and concerned citizens.
The churches involved will not be publicized, in an effort to keep the process organized.
"If people know where it is, then they will come and knock on the door and that’s not how they access it," Somersall said.
Those in need of shelter for the night are asked to register at the 7th Street Health Access Centre that same day by 4 p.m.
"They need to be absolutely homeless, not just looking for a better place than where they are," Somersall said.
"There are very clear guidelines for being able to stay. If they choose to leave during the night, they’re not allowed back in, so they have to just respect the facility and be sure that they truly need a place for the night, in order to use it."
The churches will work on a rotating basis, with a maximum of 10 beds per night. The shelter will be available when the temperature dips below -15 C.
Somersall says homelessness continues to be an unfortunate reality in Brandon.
"There are homeless units that have been developed and they have been a tremendous help for making sure that more people are off the street," she said.
"But there are large numbers of people who are staying on people’s couches and putting their housing at risk … so we’re just having to shuffle people around from place to place … There are people in that process that end up outside and with this kind of weather it simply isn’t possible."
Debby Coombs-Dandy, a member of a church outreach committee, encourages people to let others know about the initiative.
"If people in the community see someone they’re concerned about and they worry that they won’t be safe because of the weather they should say to them that they should go to Samaritan House or … the 7th Street Access Centre," she said.
The initiative has received some funding from the Brandon Area Community Foundation, the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp. and other private donors.
There will be security guards on site to ensure people are safe overnight.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 22, 2013