‘We don’t turn anyone away’: How organizations are helping Winnipeg’s most vulnerable during cold snap

An extreme cold warning is in effect for Winnipeg, and as temperatures dip to dangerous levels, some shelters are at – or even over – capacity.

“We’re managing with a whole lot of help from our friends… and I have to say there’s been area churches, service organizations, individuals that have stepped up all throughout our coverage area,” Marion Willis, St. Boniface Street Links executive director, told CTV News.

St. Boniface Street Links pop-up shelter is open 24/7, has rooms for up to 20 people, and guests don’t have to leave during the day.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Willis explained. “We may not have a mattress for everybody, but you know, we have a couch… seating area… you can play crib, play cards, just sit and visit.”

Willis said people access shelters for a myriad of reasons, but during cold snaps like the one hovering over Winnipeg, there is a commonality to their needs.

“It’s really, really cold out there, and when people get here, they’re really happy to have a quiet, safe, warm place.”

It’s a similar story at Siloam Mission where all 143 beds at the shelter are spoken for.

“We’ve been at capacity for some time now and with the cold snap, that usually just means more people on the waiting list, more people where we’re trying to find other places to go once we know we’re full up for the night,” Luke Thiessen, Siloam’s communication manager, told CTV News.

Despite these two shelters being at capacity, Thiessen said there are enough beds citywide for unsheltered people.

“But they might not be in the right place, might not be set up with the right tools for the people that need that,” Thiessen said.

Thiessen added the choice of where people experiencing homelessness spend the night can be a complicated matter.

“A lot of factors play into that – but I think that whether it’s not knowing what’s available, not feeling comfortable with what’s available, or just temporarily being between places.”

One service looking to address that is Manitoba 211.

“If someone sees someone and they say, I don’t quite know what to do, if they call us – we can dispatch or connect to an outreach van either through a warm transfer or warm handoff, and those trained professionals can go help the individual with whatever needs they have,” Manitoba 211 director Daniel Leonard told CTV News.

Manitoba 211 is a partnership between the province and United Way that was first introduced during the pandemic. The free service connects callers to several government and community agencies – including organizations like Siloam Mission and St. Boniface Street Links.

“There are so many different outreach vans and programs that are able to help people who are on the street when it’s cold.”

Leonard said that could mean access to shelter, food, or other necessities.

However, emergency services should be contacted if an individual is unresponsive or in medical distress.

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