Last Friday evening a homeless man was found extremely intoxicated and slowly freezing to death in Polson Park, a situation that could have been prevented.
There are two shelters in Vernon available to the homeless, plus an extreme weather shelter open during this week's cold snap.
Staff at the shelter tell Castanet that there were beds available to the man, on the evening he almost lost his life.
John Howard Society Director and Manager of Shelter Services Kelly Fehr explains that unfortunately in these cases the person may not be capable to help themselves.
“My suspicion is that he was like many clientele that are typically street persons or homeless,” said Fehr.
“Frequently they have severe addiction issues accompanied with severe un-medicated mental health issues. This makes it hard for them sometimes to sense feelings such as temperature, it can be hard to understand such things as time and those things can be a real challenge for them.”
It may seem hard to believe someone could not feel such extreme cold to get themselves to shelter, but Fehr says their addiction is often too severe.
“A percentage of the alcoholics served by shelter services, are so severe that they don’t typically drink your average alcohol,” explained Fehr.
“They are drinking mouthwash, rubbing alcohol and Listerine. And when you do that for long periods of time it starts to wear down your cognitive abilities. Once that happens, simple judgment calls and decisions are very impaired.”
One question brought forward was whether there were services available to someone so extremely intoxicated, but Fehr insists while some shelters are sober, others, like the extreme weather shelter, allow those who are inebriated to seek shelter.
Fehr says it is unlikely, especially in these temperatures, that someone could not find shelter.
“The only reason you would not be permitted into the Gateway Shelter or the Extreme Weather Response program would be if your behaviour was too disruptive,” explained Fehr.
“Meaning that the person was causing extreme conflict with other clients, or they are so intoxicated that staff feel their health is in jeopardy. At that time paramedics and RCMP will be called, because we know someone freezing to death in this cold weather is a possibility.”
Fehr says there are a very small handful of people that are barred from shelter services in Vernon due to violence towards staff or violence towards other clients.
There are options for them as well, though the protocol for that is to offer bus tickets to Kelowna to use the shelter services there.