Donated winter clothes the 'difference between life and death' for Edmonton's homeless

The warm winter clothes donated to CBC by Edmontonians are already being handed out to the city's homeless population.

Hope Mission Rescue Van hands out gloves, hats and socks to people on the street

Randy Currie takes gloves from the Hope Mission's Mike Walters on Whyte Avenue Friday. (Peter Evans CBC News)

Some of the warm winter clothes donated to CBC's clothing drive are already being handed out to people who are surviving on Edmonton's streets during the coldest days of the year.

The Hope Mission's rescue van began distributing some of the gloves, hats and socks on Friday.

"We're going out on the streets looking for guys that aren't in the shelters that need clothing, making sure they're not too cold," said Mike Walters who works with the agency's 24/7 crisis diversion team.

'A chance to help people who really need help'

5 years ago
The Hope Mission rescue van offers the gloves, hats and socks as well as food and water to people who sometimes don't make it to the shelters 1:23

Even though temperatures were approaching minus 30 with the windchill on Friday, the team found a number of people braving the cold without gloves or hats.

"I misplaced them last night," said Wayne Lafferty who was walking on Whyte Avenue when he was spotted by staff in the rescue van.

"I gave him a pair of brand new gloves and a toque to keep his head warm, two very vulnerable parts when it's this cold, right?" said Walters who also gave bagged lunches to Lafferty and his friend.

The donations people make he said are critical, especially in such bitterly cold conditions.

The Hope Mission van found Wayne Lafferty without a hat or gloves on Whyte Avenue. (Peter Evans CBC News)

"It can be the difference between life and death for some of these guys," Walters explained. He added that he has personally witnessed many cases of frostbite among homeless people during his time on the job.

The rescue van is also stocked with water, blankets, coats and other necessities like toiletries.

Lafferty said he's grateful the van is on the street every day for people who sometimes don't make it to the shelters.

"We just keep on moving here and there," he said. "We survive."

Clothing drive continues until Tuesday

CBC is running a drive for new socks, new hats and new gloves through Dec.13, after agencies said their winter clothing supplies were running low during this cold snap. 

Seeing people whose lives are in crisis, dealing with mental illness and addictions is a part of the job for both Walters and his colleague Rick Castro. 

Whenever they hand out clothing and food, they also try to connect people with help to get them into safer situations.

It can be the difference between life and death- Hope Mission's Mike Walters 

So while some of the work is demoralising, it's also a calling. They feel they have to help the people who really need it. 

"If you focus on the hard parts. it could be depressing. But the reality is the good parts that happen when you help these people is totally worth it," said Walters. "Those moments are so sweet."

The rescue van works closely with Boyle Street Community Services which runs a similar service.

The rescue van stopped to hand out warm clothes to two men huddled next to a heat vent on Jasper Avenue Friday. (Peter Evans CBC News)

The team recommends people call 211 if they see anyone on the street, whether they are homeless or not, who looks to be in distress during this cold snap. 

CBC will accept clothing donations on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Monday and Tuesday, when the drive ends, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.

The donations will be shared among agencies who work with Edmonton's homeless.