Overflow warming space at Red Deer's Safe Harbour Society is making a difference.
Earlier this month, city council approved a development permit for twenty new overnight spots designed to aid those seeking refuge from the often bone-chilling nighttime cold.
"It was perfect timing. The weather had been mild so we were kind of relaxing a bit in that and all of a sudden there was that cold weather," exclaims Kath Hoffman, Executive Director at Safe Harbour. "As we're running to our cars and into our houses, people are thinking about the others that don't have those cars and houses to run into. Those extra overnight spaces that we were able to open up made that a given."
With temperatures in central Alberta expected to dip down to -40 with the windchill over the next couple nights and stay between 15 and 20 degrees below normal during the daytime, the need for overnight shelter is as important as ever.
Hoffman admits, however, that it's when there's bitter cold that sometimes numbers go down.
"People are not so quick to kick people out that might be crashing at their house," she explains. "Hearts and warm fires get extended a little longer. So we definitely have the room to let people in and we all breathe a sigh of relief when that happens."
In the lead-up to Christmas, the community came through in a big way for Safe Harbour, Hoffman adds.
"So many people brought in winter supplies. We had kids that had been collecting in schools for us, so there were lots of toiletries, blankets, coats and socks galore, as well as mitts, toques, scarves and they just kept coming and coming," she says, noting gloves continue to be the number one item needed. "We were giving them out just as fast as they were coming in. It was so great to see so many people thinking about others."
Hoffman also applauds those frontline workers who served their community during the holidays.
"They have been working through the holiday season to take care of those who have no place to be," Hoffman points out. "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."
As temperatures are forecasted to remain in the -25 to -40 range with the windchill for the next several days, Environment Canada has some suggestions for how to stay safe until it warms up the first week of the new year.
"If you don't have to go outside, stay indoors. If you do have to go outside to do some work, watch for shortness of breath, muscle pain, weakness, numbness," says Meteorologist Dan Kulak. "Make sure somebody is looking after you as there have been cases where people have gone outside and slipped and fallen on ice and nobody's found them for many hours. By the time they're found, they're in bad shape and it's a life-threatening situation."
Kulak adds it is vital to think about more than just ourselves.
"Pets are not built for the cold weather any more than you are probably, so keep an eye on them and make sure they have shelter," he says. "Of course there is the vulnerable popualtion -- homeless people that are just exposed to the cold all the time, so do what you can for those people as well."
An Extreme Cold Warning has also been issued by Environment Canada.
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