A handful of people used Brandon’s Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter last week when a wintry deep freeze left the city shivering at -40 C with the wind chill.
Between one and five people used the shelter service each night, though Marla Somersall, executive director of Samaritan House Ministries, said she hoped no one would come through the doors at all.
“I knew there were some folks that were without anywhere to stay, so we know we’d have folks pretty much every night,” Somersall said.
The shelter program was launched on Jan. 21 and will be open to those who need a place to sleep on nights when the mercury dips below -15 C. Three churches in the city rotate nights and each have 10 beds.
After a few days of milder weather, the city is expecting to see lows between -27 C and -34 C in the coming days, which will trigger the shelters to open again.
“We’d like to be able to keep it open more, but we just don’t have the funding.”
Somersall said there were different faces who came through each night, most of whom were men.
“It’s a variety,” she said. “Some folks that have just come back into the community or people who are couch-surfing and have had difficulties with people they’ve been staying with.”
While the number of homeless people in the community is a fast-moving target, she estimates there are around 10 people on the streets of Brandon.
The bulk of the funding for the project this year came from a $4,000 commitment from the Brandon Area Community Foundation, with other funding coming from the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp., various churches and private donors.
“We are committing to this for two years with the expectation that all of us who are dealing with homeless folks are going to keep working on finding a better way to house them,” Somersall said.
“We have to come up with a better response to make sure there’s somewhere consistent for (homeless) people to be.”
The solution to homelessness in Brandon is to create low-income housing, Somersall said.
“Housing for people that are struggling to meet the basics,” she said “Lots of the people who are single especially need rentals that are maximum $300 a month and that’s nearly impossible to find that.”
There has to be a national housing strategy, and recently the provincial government has been taking the bulk of the responsibility, according to Somersall.
The Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp. will receive $3.6 million in federal funding over the next year, to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, which Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed announced in December.
Those in need of shelter for a night can register at the 7th Street Health Access Centre on the same day by 4 p.m.
There are guidelines for those who use the service. If an individual decides to leave at some point during the night, they will not be allowed back in, and they must be absolutely homeless, not just looking for a better option.
The emergency service is not releasing the names of the churches involved to keep away walk-ins and to keep the process organized.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 30, 2013