Winnipeg shelter prepares as coming cold snap threatens homeless

An Arctic air blast that could bring dangerously frigid temperatures to the Prairies over the holidays has Siloam Mission doing what it can to keep Winnipeg's homeless safe in the cold.

Siloam Mission's 110 beds fill up on most nights; shelter in need of gloves, long-underwear donations

New Siloam board chair says "we acknowledge our mistakes and thank so many for helping us learn and grow as individuals and as an organization.” (Brett Purdy/CBC)

An Arctic air blast that could bring dangerously frigid temperatures to the Prairies over the holidays has Siloam Mission doing what it can to keep Winnipeg's homeless safe in the cold.

The city shelter has about 110 beds for people to stay overnight, and it will very likely need them all in the coming days when Winnipeg gets hit with what could be its coldest Christmas in 20 years.

"The cold is certainly very challenging as it has to do with hardship around homelessness," said Siloam Mission CEO Jim Bell. 

"We are very conscious and make every effort to make room."

Temperatures on Christmas Eve are expected to reach –27 C. Christmas day has lows of –29 C in the forecast and CBC meteorologist John Sauder predicts Boxing Day could hit a frigid –30 C.

Meal for 500

Shelter volunteers were hard at work Friday preparing food for Sunday, when an estimated 500 people will dine at its annual Christmas feast. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is expected to attend the feast, which runs from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Volunteers prepare for the Christmas Eve dinner they will serve to about 500 of the city's homeless. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Siloam's food services manager, Chris Buffington, said he always looks forward to serving people the big holiday meal of turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.

"It's one of my favourite dinners throughout the year," said Buffington, who has worked at the shelter for more than nine years. 

"Everybody coming in is in a really good mood, lots of cheer in the kitchen, everybody's here to help out and make a difference."

Shelter 'full every night'

Bell said that this winter the shelter is fortunate to have its new dining hall open, where people can line up inside to stay warm while they wait for a meal.

Though the shelter has 110 beds, most nights every one is taken. That leaves those who need a roof over their heads to sign on to wait lists.

"Our shelter is full every night," Bell said.

On an average night, Siloam Mission's 110 beds aren't enough to keep up with demand, Bell said. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

"The important thing around that is to make sure we communicate with our neighbours, and agencies in the neighbourhood, to make sure that nobody's on the street overnight."

Siloam Mission is need of donated gloves, long underwear and other warm winter clothes it gives out. Cold medication and lip balm donations are also welcome, Bell said.