Shelters, CAA Manitoba see usage spike as temperatures plunge below -30 C

As Winnipeg saw its first overnight low below -30 C of the season, the timing of the weather and the holiday season means a harder time finding warm shelter for vulnerable Winnipeggers.

Both Siloam Mission and CAA Manitoba say they're ready to help

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)

As Winnipeg experienced its first overnight low below -30 C of the season, the timing of the weather and the holiday season means Winnipeg's vulnerable people will have a harder time finding warm shelter.

The weather station at Richardson International Airport recorded the overnight low as -30.6 C Sunday morning. Environment Canada called for a high of -19 C for Sunday, and a high of -22 C for Christmas Day. With the windchill, those numbers fall to -37 C and -42 C respectively.

Much of Manitoba remains under an extreme cold warning.

Usually, during extreme weather conditions, the City of Winnipeg encourages people to seek shelter at libraries, community centres and other facilities during the day. However, many of those are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Const. Rob Carver of the Winnipeg Police Service said officers are on the lookout for people who may be in search of shelter during this cold snap.

People who are intoxicated who fall asleep in this weather are at particular risk, he said, adding officers are making sure vulnerable people are taken to Siloam Mission or other area shelters. 

Beds filling quickly: Siloam

Siloam Mission told CBC earlier this week they were preparing for the cold snap, and they expected beds to fill quickly.

CEO Jim Bell said 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 this year.

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, adding about 30 people are turned away each day. 

"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 needs gloves, long underwear and other warm winter clothes it gives out. Cold medication and lip balm donations are also welcome, Bell said.

Spike in calls: CAA

CAA Manitoba said they saw a spike of phone calls on Christmas Eve right as stores were opening.

"Things started off looking almost the same as yesterday, really slow start," said spokesperson Liz Kulyk. "But when people got out of bed a little bit late and realized they had some last minute Christmas shopping, I think a lot of them realized Santa Claus bringing the cold also was causing some problems.
CAA spokesperson Liz Kulyk said the association started seeing a spike in calls around 10am. (CBC)

"All of a sudden we saw a huge spike in calls right around 10 a.m. this morning."

The biggest problem they're seeing is dead batteries, said Kulyk. 

Despite the spike, at the moment there is no wait for help, as the agency saw the weather coming and drivers are eager to get their first round of cold-weather work in, she added. 

CAA expects about 600 calls daily over the next few days, said Kulyk — double what they saw on Saturday. 

If Manitobans forget to plug in their vehicles over the next few days and find their car won't start, the best thing to do is to call and then plug in their vehicle while waiting for a boost, she said. 


Elisha Dacey


Elisha Dacey was a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast.