Extreme cold forces school closures in Manitoba, strains shelter capacity

Dangerous wind chill values of –40 to –50 in Manitoba have prompted numerous school divisions to cancel classes on Thursday.

Dangerous wind chill values of –40 to –50 across much of Manitoba

It's a cold one out there and wind chills in Winnipeg are expected to ease only somewhat from Thursday morning to the afternoon, going from –42 to –32. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Dangerous wind chill values of –40 to –50 in Manitoba have prompted numerous school divisions to cancel classes on Thursday.

Morning temperatures across most of the province pushed –35 C without the wind chill values included. Winnipeg, at –33 C, was more suited for polar bears than Churchill, where the mercury registered –28 C.

The deep freeze has led to the following school cancellations:

  • Pine Creek School Division.
  • Interlake School Division.
  • Southwest Horizon School Division.
  • Rolling River School Division.
  • Turtle Mountain School Division.
  • Red River Valley School Division.
  • Lord Selkirk School Division.
  • Sergeant Tommy Prince School in Brokenhead.
The cold will move out overnight with temperatures actually rising in Winnipeg to –18 C. The high on Friday should reach –10 C. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Classes are on in the following schools, but buses aren't running:

  • Park West School Division.
  • École Saint-Lazare.
  • École La Source (Shilo).

Similarly, in the Brandon School Division, buses aren't running for schools outside the city. They are running as usual inside city limits. 

Attendance is at the discretion of parents where travel is required, the division said, but parents are asked to call schools if their children won't be attending.

The areas in red, across western Canada, are under extreme cold warnings from Environment Canada. (Environment Canada)

The cold has also prompted the provincial government to cancel transportation services for people who participate in Community Living disability services day programs in Winnipeg.

The programs will still be offered, but with fewer staff members, in case any clients find other transportation, the province said in a news release.

Shelters full

Homeless shelters in Winnipeg are dealing with a surge in demand due to the frigid weather.

Just a Warm Sleep, an emergency shelter at Augustine United Church in Osborne Village, is running full, said Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, executive director of 1JustCity, the non-profit agency that operates the shelter.

"We've seen unprecedented numbers so far this winter, and we expect those to keep up through this cold snap," she said. The shelter on Pulford Street is currently operating at 112 per cent capacity.

There were seven nights that the shelter — which has room for 25 people — was over capacity during the entire winter season last year. This year, there already have been seven, Blaikie Whitecloud said.

"We're trying to work with other outreach vans so that when we're at capacity, we can send people to other places, but all of the other places are also experiencing capacity, so it's really difficult."

People are being invited to stay a while and warm up but there are not enough mats for them all to stay the night.

"It's gut-wrenching to turn people away. We can't be significantly over capacity," Blaikie Whitecloud said.

Many homeless people have been living in encampments under bridges and stairwells, and in parks and bus shacks around the city, but the recent cold has pushed them to seek warmer shelters, said Rick Lees, executive director of Main Street Project.

The 2018 Winnipeg street census, which gathered information on as many homeless people in the city as it could, found more than 1,500 people rely on emergency shelters or some other form of provisional housing.

Of those, some 200 "live rough," said Lees, referring to year-round urban camping on the streets.

"A lot of people, even though they prefer to live rough, will move in for weather like this," he said.

There are about 200 homeless people in Winnipeg who choose to live rough, eschewing shelters when the temperature drops and finding other places to sleep, such as under stairwells and bridges, in parks and in bus shacks, says Rick Lees of Main Street Project. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

However, there are some who still insist on fending for themselves and Lees worries about the ones who might not recognize the dangers.

"Lots of us just aren't aware of how quickly hypothermia and frostbite can kick in when you get to these kinds of temperatures," he said. "We all think we're pretty resilient."

Main Street Project's outreach teams are extra vigilant, checking all the areas in the city "where we know people tend to go."

The van offers transport to shelters but for those who refuse, workers can provide blankets, food and coffee — and regular check-ins.

Relief coming

The extreme wind chills are expected to ease somewhat Thursday afternoon, Environment Canada forecast, but that doesn't exactly mean the outdoor patios are going to open.

In Winnipeg, the wind chill will improve from –42 to –32, so the risk of frostbite remains severe.

Daytime highs will range from –25 C to –22 C throughout Manitoba, with Winnipeg expected to get to –23 C.

The cold will move out overnight with temperatures actually rising in Winnipeg to –18 C. The high on Friday should reach –10 C, Environment Canada said.

The normal high for this time of year is –13 C.


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