Looking Back: Cold Weather Shelters and COVID-19

With the worst of winter seemingly behind us in Thompson, we wanted to shed a spotlight on the Cold Weather Shelter program coordinated by the Thompson Homeless Shelter every winter.

Roughly 70 residents in Thompson are considered chronically homeless, but the Thompson Homeless can only accommodate 24 at a time. Though the Shelter-in-Place Program ran by the YWCA has accommodated an additional 25 residents in 2020/2021, that still leaves an excess of roughly 20 residents without homes who need to seek alternative shelter on a nightly basis.

When temperatures reached a critical threshold (in our case, -35C), the warming shelters at Thompson’s ice rinks continued to be used as cold weather shelters by the Thompson Homeless Shelter to accommodate this overflow of residents.

The shelter’s services were accessed 250 times by residents over the course of 30 days this year (sometimes by the same individual, multiple times).

Federal Reaching Home Funding Helped Purchase A New Van.

Through a grant from the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation and Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, the Thompson Homeless Shelter has purchased a new van for transporting people to the emergency shelters.

The van helped the Thompson Homeless Shelter to transport patients without homes to COVID-19 testing and other medical appointments, and offer transportation to cold-weather shelters more reliably when partners were not available.

Emergency Services Work Together To Get Residents to Warming Shelters.

Emergency cold weather shelters are located at the outdoor skating rinks, far from downtown. However, starting at 10:00pm, the shelter worked with Keewatin Tribal Council to provide transportation from the shelter downtown to the cold weather shelters, so that sheltering residents don’t need to make the journey.

If a resident is excessively intoxicated and poses a risk to themselves or others, they’re picked up by RCMP or CSO’s and taken to the RCMP holding cells in Thompson. Conversely, individuals who are being released from holding cells late in the night are dropped off directly to the cold weather shelters by RCMP officers if they’re open.

Thompson Fire and Emergency Services are also notified when the shelters open, so that families in distress can be transported to the shelters if they have nowhere else to turn.

Pandemics Are Tricky When It Comes to Emergency Shelter, But Hygiene Has Controlled The Spread.

Operating the Thompson Homeless Shelter and the cold weather shelters present a challenge during the pandemic particularly during the winter: turning people away is simply not an option when temperatures are frigid. Social distancing is challenging in the shelters, but staff have stressed masks and hand-washing when indoors.

Thankfully, Thompson has been lucky that transmission among our homeless population has been relatively low. Staff at the THS also monitored residents for potential risks and symptoms, and provided transportation to and from testing sites, vaccination appointments, and medical appointments more generally.

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