Freezing temperatures have homeless searching for places out of the cold in Nanaimo

WatchTemperatures are dropping to frigid lows in the coming week and that has advocates for homeless people in Nanaimo worried. Skye Ryan explains.

Anita James grabbed on tight to tarps Sunday, as biting winds shook her tent and dropping winter temperatures began their week-long grip on Nanaimo.

“How are you going to cope this week?” CHEK News asked the 49-year-old homeless woman.

“Probably just end up freezing, and getting cold,” said James.

She was worried she might lose her tent, as she was illegally camped on a downtown sidewalk.

“We lose our tents weekly,” said homeless Nanaimo resident Arnel Wasden.

“We don’t know where we can go, like we get pushed out of every place we go to,” said Wasden.

Yet the two women said shelters have been full nightly, and they can’t find affordable housing.

“There’s really no low-income housing,” said James.

As the small Island city struggles with a housing crisis, that is magnified by a ballooning homeless population.

“The highest per capita of homeless in Canada,” said Ron Wilson, the leader of the shelter management team at First Unitarian Fellowship in Nanaimo.

First Unitarian operates a 24-bed shelter below their church on Townsite Road. Wilson said it is often full, and called the shortage of beds and services to meet the growing population of homeless, a crisis.

“We have between 600 and 700 homeless in town and we can only serve 24,” said Wilson.

Two more shelters are also open in Nanaimo, and workers here have extended hours to keep people warm, as rain, cold and even snow are possibilities in the days ahead.

“If you get wet, it’s getting dry again because that’s the critical piece,” said Wilson.

The Nanaimo 7-10 Club will also be opening their extreme weather warming centre in Nanaimo’s Caledonia Park,

“A motion was put forward last week to have us open all of March but because of the cold weather coming up, we are going to open for the next five days,” said Gord Fuller, Board Chair of the Nanaimo 7-10 Club.

Advocates are urging all levels of government to build more affordable housing in Nanaimo as soon as possible, before the crisis gets even worse.

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Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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