British Columbia

Chilliwack's homeless bond together to survive cold snap

Veronica Herrling gets nervous whenever she hears a powerful wind whip through the trees above the roof of her makeshift home near Evans Road in Chilliwack.

Veronica Herrling lives in a makeshift camp with her husband and elderly mother in Chilliwack

A handful of people live in this camp near Evans Road in Chilliwack. (Simon Charland/CBC)

Veronica Herrling gets nervous whenever she hears a powerful wind whistle above the roof of her makeshift home near Evans Road in Chilliwack.

Two trees came down on her neighbour's shelter late Monday night, just missing the bed where the man was sleeping.

"It gets kind of frightening at times at night time, especially when it's dark out there and you hear the trees and swaying and cracking," Herrling said.

Veronica Herrling lives in this shelter with her husband and elderly mother. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

"You just don't really know when it could happen."

Herrling stays at the camp with her husband, elderly mother and a handful of others.

They have a wood stove and a generator to keep them warm in the frigid weather.

It's not the cold that scares them, but falling trees.

Strong wind on Monday night toppled two trees, destroying a man's shelter. (Simon Charland/CBC)

"I'm a believer that if your number is up, your number is up," Herrling said.

"If the Creator is going to take you away, then it's going to be however he chooses for that to be."

Tragic loss

A fire has burned at the camp since Herrling's sister Glenda died on December 11.

Heavy snow collected on top of Glenda's shelter and the roof collapsed on her as she slept. She was 51.

Glenda Herrling was killed in December when heavy snow caused the roof of her shelter to collapse. (Simon Charland/CBC)

"It was a really sad thing but I think she's in a better place now," Herrling said.

"She was all of 80 pounds soaking wet but she was a feisty girl with children and grandchildren. She loved living, she loved life and she loved her family."

Glenda's memorial will be held Saturday in Chilliwack.

"We can't be sad because she never wanted us to be sad," Herrling said.

Homeless seniors

Veronica's mother, Marita, is the matriarch of the family and she takes her role as advice-giver seriously.

Marita, who is in her 70s, says she isn't leaving her home unless she has to.

"We'd probably think about moving if it got too cold, but it's not cold in here," Marita says as she points at her scarf, toque and heavy jacket.

Marita Herrling, who is in her 70s, says she can handle the cold weather. (Simon Charland/CBC)

Veronica is glad to have her mother around.

"My mom is a very strong woman and she guides us through a lot of life issues and stuff," she said.

Cory Buettner, an outreach pastor with Ruth and Naomi's Mission in Chilliwack, spent the day trying to convince people on the street to come inside to sleep during this cold snap.

He says many of the people he talked to were almost as old as Marita, and he's talked to one man whose feet are frostbitten but refuses to go to a hospital because he fears doctors will amputate them.

"Today I would have talked to 20 or 30 people who are in their late 50s or early 60s," he said.

"Some of them are homeless, some of them just kind of function on the street and some of them are right on the verge of being homeless."

He says his shelter has a dire need for warm clothes, socks and men's shoes.