Inn offers shelter from the cold

The Cold Snap Inn in Penticton is again ready to open its doors to those in need on the coldest nights of the year.

Through until March, the extreme weather shelter will operate at Cheers the Church on Main Street on nights when the temperature hits -10 C.

We know when people aren't getting a proper diet that they don't have a lot of energy to stay warm and can fall asleep and never wake up," said Lauraine Bailie, president of the Soupateria board. "So it is good for them to know they have a place to go."

The Cold Snap Inn is one of several extreme weather shelters in the province funded by BC Housing. There will also be shelters in Kamloops and Merritt..

The government is providing up to $1.3 million for the shelters that open when communities decide to issue alerts based on weather conditions.

“Our government provides the funding and the community makes sure there is a warm, safe place to stay, for anyone who needs it," said Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing.

The inn, staffed and operated  by The Salvation Army, came into existence four years ago during a bitterly cold December.

Initially offered at different churches, last year it moved to Cheers the Church at 639 Main Street, after pastors Dennis and Joey Cyr offered up the space.

On winter days, Reg Petrie, supervisor of Compass House, a Penticton emergency shelter, checks in with Environment Canada to see if extreme weather is in the forecast.

When the temperatures dip, he activates the shelter.

An email is sent to all concerned parties, including emergency services, telling them if they see someone in need to bring them in.

The Soupateria, which provides daily meals to those in need, is contacted and a sign is put up advising people the inn  is open.

"Obviously we are concerned about people's safety, when the weather is extreme," said Petrie. "Other places in Canada have different criteria. Ours is -10.

The shelter is open from 8 p.m to 8 a.m, and homeless men and women  can access it through the back door. Cots are set up in a room with a divider to separate the men from the women. There are 20 spaces available and a hot supper and breakfast are provided. In addition to staff from Compass House there is a security guard on site.

Each year the number of homeless people served continues to grow. Two winters ago there were at least 40 people living rough, and with economic times the way they are that number is probably going up, said Bailie.

Petrie sees it as an ongoing problem.

"There is always a running battle with homelessness here," he said. "The biggest change in demographics is it seems to be an older crowd now, because there are not a lot of jobs available for someone who is 60-years-old."

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