Cold spell leaves Edmonton's homeless shelters struggling

With winter's early arrival, many shelters in Edmonton are struggling to keep up with the demand for winter clothing.

'We see a lot of people with frostbitten hands and toes — and missing digits'

Boyle Street Community Services put the call out for warm clothing donations and Edmontonians responded. (Emily Fitzpatrick)

With the blink of an eye winter has officially hit Edmonton.

Temperatures dipped well below zero last week throughout most of the province.

And the sudden arrival has left shelters struggling to keep up with the demand for warm clothing.

Darren Brennan with Edmonton's Bissell Centre said as the temperatures dipped, the agency has seen a major spike in people accessing its services.

"We could see 400 to 500 people coming into our drop-in centre everyday with the majority of them looking for proper clothing,"

We see a lot of people with frostbitten hands and toes, and missing digits. So it is vital right now that we get gloves and boots, because we are pretty much out of those."

Edmonton's Boyle Street Community Services put out a call for donations after the first snowfall of the season.

Elliott Tanti said the response from the community has been overwhelming.

"Every 15 minutes we had an Edmontonian in here with a bag or two, or three, or ten items of warm clothing. Everything that we really needed, it was unbelievable."

Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton received hundreds of donations over the weekend. (Emily Fitzpatrick)

But if they are going to last all winter, Tanti said Boyle Street needs more clothing.

"These donations are great but we start to run out of them very quickly just because of the community that we serve and the challenges they face," said Tanti.

"When you have mitts that get wet, a regular individual would go home, throw them in the dryer, or put them on your heating vent and they would be dry in a couple of hours.

"If you don't have a place to stay or a home, that is not an option.

"And we see those mitts, those socks, get damaged — or frankly are unusable — quite quickly."

The clothing drive #BundleUpYEG has collected 900 bags of clothing donations since it launched in 2013. (#BundleUpYEG)

Staff at the shelters agree that items like tuques, mitts, gloves and long underwear — anything that can keep the body warm, especially the extremities — are desperately needed right now.

Jasmine Topham is trying to fill that need with her clothing drive #BundleUpYEG.

Since it was created in 2013, volunteers have been picking up items for donations and delivering them to shelters.

Jasmine Topham founded #BundleUpYEG and said this year she has already collected 40 bags of donations. (Bundle Up YEG)

Topham said to keep up with the demand this year, her team of volunteers has grown from four to 13 people.

Topham said in the past five years, #BundleUpYEG has delivered 900 bags of clothing.

Since the launch of this year's campaign on Nov. 1, they've picked up 43 bags of clothing already — a record number of pickups, she said.  

"We have delivered almost all of it to the shelters."

"Edmontonians have been incredible. This is the fourth day into the campaign and we have 36 pickups scheduled between Sunday and Wednesday."

Temperatures are dipping as low as –15 in Edmonton and –14 in Calgary this week.

Environment Canada says an Arctic air mass will stay throughout the first half of November.