Manitoba

Homeless in the cold: Manitoba shelters full, but donations are down

Winter has arrived and Manitoba's homeless shelters are bursting at the seams, but the unseasonably mild weather until now, as well as an influx of refugees, may be impacting donations.

'[We] typically turn away 15 to 30 people each night,' says Floyd Perras, director of Siloam Mission

Homeless in the cold: Manitoba shelters full, but donations are down

6 years ago
2:01
Winter has arrived and Manitoba's homeless shelters are bursting at the seams, but the unseasonably mild weather until now, as well as an influx of refugees, may be impacting donations. 2:01

Winter has arrived in Winnipeg, seemingly overnight.

Chris Morgan, 32, says it's not the snow but the wind that makes it harsh. He would know. For the last two years he's been homeless.

"Basically the only thing you can do [to keep warm] is public spaces," he said.

The cold weather is putting a run on warm places to sleep. Up to 30 people are being turned away from Siloam Mission's shelter each night, because it's at capacity. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
"Sometimes that can be uncomfortable because you know you're homeless and others, sometimes, seem to — and I can't say I blame them — look down on us because we have nothing, but what can you do?"

Morgan moved to Winnipeg six years ago from Red Deer, Alta. A combination of bad relationships, drug use and personal issues led him to life on the street, he said.

When the weather's warm, he camps. This winter he's relying on shelters. Preferably Siloam Mission, he says, because those staying overnight have to be sober.

"You don't necessarily know exactly what you're going to encounter in some of the other places, so you feel like a lot more safe and secure here," he said.

Getting in, however, is no guarantee. Siloam Mission has 110 beds and every night they're full.

"We actually typically turn away 15 to 30 people each night," executive director Floyd Perras told CBC News.

Chris Morgan, 32, has been homeless for two years. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
"So that shows a growing need for the shelters and growing number of homeless that are on the streets, which is concerning,"

As the snow flies across the province, so does the demand for a warm place to sleep. Shelters in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson are operating near or above capacity.

The Salvation Army in Winnipeg has 45 emergency cots, said Mark Stewart, the residential co-ordinator with the Booth Centre. Every night they're full too, he said, adding no one is turned away. Typically it operates with an extra 40 mats on the floor.

In Brandon, the cold-weather shelter can host 10 people. Thea Dennis, director of Samaritan House, said seven of those have been full since doors opened in mid-November.

Staff at the shelter in Thompson told CBC News its 24 beds are always full and the lobby is opened if there's more people than cots. On exceptionally cold nights, an overflow-type shelter is run out of a community rink.

Refugees, mild weather may be impacting donations

Perras said Winnipeg's unseasonably warm winter thus far has been a relief for those on the streets, but it's been bad for donations to Siloam Mission.

"We're actually thankful that it's snowing today because that will start getting people feeling like what it might mean to be out on the streets and cold, and usually that brings people in to donate," said Perras, adding that cash donations and cold-weather clothing are down by 10 per cent compared to last year.

Siloam Mission has 110 emergency shelter beds for men, women and families and every night they're full. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
The focus on refugees coming from Syria and other countries could also be playing a role, Perras thinks.

"There's a bit of a different focus that's going on, so people could be looking to support that initiative and we support that, but we just want to make sure people are remembering, you know, the local needs as well," he said, adding the mission relies on December donations to carry them through the spring.

As for Morgan, his spirits are high. He turns 33 on Friday and just graduated from a career training program. He said he hopes to pursue a career as a health inspector or veterinary technician and has already begun job-shadowing.

"Everyone needs a hand up when they're low," he said.

"Most of us here, definitely at Siloam, we're trying to actually improve our lives. That's why we're here, so we have something to start off with."

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