Winnipeg shelter had to turn away about 20 people on coldest night of winter yet

Extreme cold in Manitoba is filling Winnipeg homeless shelters to capacity or beyond, spokesmen for three shelters say.

Siloam Mission turned people away, other shelters using overflow, as wind chill dipped to –40

Heavy winds whipped up snow on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg on Thursday morning. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Extreme cold in Manitoba is filling Winnipeg homeless shelters to capacity or beyond, spokesmen for three shelters say.

Thursday night marked the coldest of the season thus far as temperatures dipped into the –40s with wind chill and stayed there throughout Friday morning.

Overnight, Winnipeg shelter Siloam Mission had to turn away around 20 people, according to CEO Garry Corbett.

The Main Street Project shelter was at full capacity with 85 people, executive director Rick Lees said. In December, the shelter purchased an additional 25 mattresses in anticipation of the winter but didn't have to make use of them.

The Salvation Army also recently brought in 50 sleeping mats as emergency overflow in case of extreme situations, cold or otherwise. On Thursday, the shelter was at full capacity in its regular beds and made use of 22 of its roughly 150 overflow spaces, according to spokesman Rob Kerr.

Corbett said winter is a dangerous season for Winnipeg's homeless.

"You know, with the cold, the frostbite, danger, even to their lives this time of year. Combine that with the flu season striking our building just like everywhere else," he said.

"You've got the flu and cold, and also they have compromised immune systems. So this is probably — it scares us the most, this time of year, for our folks."

Salvation Army outreach ambulance not up and running yet

In December, the Salvation Army brought in a new outreach ambulance intended to be used to seek out and help people caught in extreme cold, but the vehicle wasn't out on Thursday night.

It still needs to get Manitoba licence plates and certification from a mechanic, according to Kerr. He said he hopes to see that happen in the next week or so.

A similar van operated by Main Street Projects picked up 21 people Thursday night.

Kerr said cold temperatures mean it's crucial to seek out people who may not otherwise seek out a shelter.

"Some people, if they're disoriented, if they're confused, if hypothermia is starting to set in, they don't even realize how cold it is, they don't realize they're in danger," he said.

"Someone talking to them saying 'You're in danger, you need to get inside,' is what we want to be out there [to] find those folks and help them."

Winnipeg temperatures are expected to rise into the single digits over the weekend.

With files from Meagan Fiddler and Erin Brohman