Nova Scotia

Warming centres, shelters open as temperatures plummet across Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians are in for a very cold week and shelter operators are encouraging anyone who needs to warm up to visit a shelter or Halifax's emergency warming centre.

Environment Canada warns temperatures could feel close to –30 C with wind chill

Power went out at the Indian Point Fire Department and they're relying on a generator. The building is being used as a comfort centre. (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC)

As Nova Scotians prepare for a stretch of very cold weather, shelter operators in the Halifax area are encouraging residents to keep an eye out for those without a warm place to go. 

If you see someone outside or huddled in a bus shelter, direct them to the warming centre at St. Matthew's United Church on Barrington Street, said Sheri Lecker, executive director of Adsum House, which supports homeless women and children.

"If you don't want to approach someone, you can call 211 or you can call a non-emergency police and say, 'You know, I'm really worried about someone,'" she said. 

The warming centre in the basement of St. Matthew's opened today from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Out of the Cold also opens in the same location at 8:30 p.m. for people who need somewhere to sleep. 

Thousands of Nova Scotians are still without power after a Christmas Day storm brought strong winds, followed by plunging temperatures. Environment Canada said Wednesday that it's expected to feel between –26 C and –30 C with the wind chill tonight and into Thursday morning.

The cold weather is expected to stick around into the weekend.

Place to warm up, eat and hang out

The warming centre in Halifax is run by a group of non-profits that have been providing a place for people to keep warm for the past three years. The centre opens when the temperature reaches –15 C or colder or when there's 25 centimetres of snow or more.

It typically opens at 8 a.m. but Lecker said a lack of trained volunteers has made it difficult this time of year. She said the centre's operating hours in the coming days will depend on the availability of staff. 

A shelter operator says residents should encourage anyone in need of a warm place to visit a warming centre. (CBC)

The warming centre usually sees about a dozen people or more at a time, and while there are no beds, there are couches, snacks and warm beverages.

"It's low barrier," said Lecker. "That means that, you know, we're not asking a lot of questions in order to be in the space. We want people to come in out of the cold. We want to make sure that people aren't outside absolutely freezing."

Rebecca Whitzman, shelter co-ordinator and case manager with Out of the Cold, said they also accepts gift cards to places such as McDonald's and Tim Hortons.

"That's really helpful because that gives them a warm place to stay during the day without them getting in trouble for loitering," she said. 

Cape Breton shelter open all day

A shelter in Cape Breton extended its hours Wednesday because of the cold weather.

Cape Breton Community Housing Association said its men's shelter will be open all day today and likely tomorrow because its policy is to extend hours when temperatures dip below below –15 C. 

Adsum House is at capacity right now, but both Lecker and Whitzman said no one looking for a warm place to hang out or have a cup of tea will be turned away. 

"I think we're going to have to work pretty hard this week just to make sure that everyone has a safe place to go," Whitzman said.

A spokesperson for Shelter Nova Scotia said last night there was still room at both Metro Turning Point and Barry House. 

Warming centres

For residents without power, comfort centres were set up, including one at the Indian Point fire hall. The hall lost its power after a giant tree fell on the building, but there was a backup generator.

Kathy Damiani, a volunteer at the centre, said it's a spot for people to gather and get water and food. One woman arrived with a defrosted chicken to cook.

Kathy Damiani lost power at her Indian Point, N.S., home but says a wood stove is keeping the house fairly warm. (CBC)

"This is a nice opportunity for anybody who's uncomfortable to come out, warm up, connect with other people. Find out the news because, you know, a lot of us rely on the internet [and] we don't have internet right now," she said. 

The are also four Nova Scotia Power payment depots being used as warming centres:

  • 261 Ohio Rd. in Shelburne.
  • 96 Valley Rd. in Chester.
  • 3 Calkin Dr. in Kentville.
  • 26 Bridge Ave. in Stellarton.

The centres opened at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

Halifax libraries open regular hours

Libraries in the Halifax area aren't staying open later, but Asa Kachan, chief librarian and CEO of Halifax Public Libraries, said all are welcome.

Library branches have returned to their regular hours for the next few days.

"There's a vulnerability that comes with the cold weather and … whether it's for 15 minutes or five hours, people are welcome," said Kachan. 

With files from Richard Cuthbertson