Halifax's Out of the Cold opening early as shelter bed shortage hits city

Out of the Cold, which is run out of the basement of St. Matthew's United Church in downtown Halifax, is opening early to help alleviate overcrowding at other shelters.

Barrington Street shelter will open at 10 p.m. on Friday

Out of the Cold, which is run out of the basement of St. Matthew's United Church in downtown Halifax, is opening early to help alleviate overcrowding at other shelters. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Halifax's emergency winter shelter is opening a week early this year because beds at every other shelter in the city are full, says the organization's co-ordinator.

"People are sleeping on the streets right now," Rebecca Whitzman of Out of the Cold told CBC's Information Morning. "This year it just seems like a higher need and there's more people who are falling through the cracks."

It's even meant a handful of people have been put up in hotels by the Department of Community Services, which is something the department does "as a last resort when no appropriate shelter beds are available," a spokesperson said in an email.

Emergency shelter opens Friday night

Out of the Cold is a 15-bed shelter that operates overnight in St. Matthew's United Church on Barrington Street. Its first day is usually Dec. 1, but Whitzman said this year is an exception.

The shelter will open its doors for the season at 10 p.m. on Friday, but not in time for tonight's frigid temperatures, which are expected to feel like –​20 C with the wind chill.

"We would like to open tonight, but unfortunately the space is not available yet, just because we weren't really preparing to open it a week early," said Whitzman, adding that renovations to the church floor are still being finished.

Out of the Cold usually opens in December, but its first day will be Nov. 23 this year. (Out of the Cold/Facebook)

Volunteers have had to scramble to get things ready in time, she said.

The Department of Community Services said it's been hearing concerns from shelter operators and has increased its funding to Out of the Cold this year so it can open early.

The department said it also recently approved $15,000 to support community groups with their extreme weather response.

Out of the Cold has listed several items on its website that are needed, including jackets, boots, bus tickets and gift cards.

"I think that we'll definitely be full Friday night and it will be a very busy night for sure," Whitzman said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning