With the weather dropping below -20 degrees Celsius, with a windchill, it’s hardest on those who have little or no shelter.
However, the numbers of those seeking shelter haven’t increased during the cold spell.
Association Advocating for Women and Children (AWAC) executive director Marianne Sorensen said they don’t see a large influx of people at their emergency women’s shelter during the cold weather.
“We don’t tend to see huge spikes depending on the weather,” Sorensen said. “We tend to hover around capacity. But we have room for people. Especially when it’s cold like this, we don’t want to turn people away.”
Generally their clients have made what arrangements they can for the winter to ensure they have a roof over their heads, Sorensen said.
“People tend to be more mobile in the summer. It’s not as big a deal to not have a roof over your head in July or August,” she said. “People tend to stay once they’ve made their decision on where they’re going to stay in the winter.”
Sorensen said the Assistance to Shelter Act, which could force people into shelters, may offer benefits to people who lack transportation to a shelter.
“(But) logistically it’s a tough one, because people have the right to say, I’m not staying,'” Sorensen said. “Certainly shelters don’t have the ability to compel people to stay, nor would they wish to.”
One constant need at the shelter during the winter is warm clothing and blankets, she said. Many of their clients don’t have proper winter coats, hats, boots, mitts, socks and scarves.
Prince George RCMP have not received any official direction or policy on how to enforce the controversial Assistance to Shelter Act.
The act, which passed third reading in the B.C. Legislature on Nov. 17, requires police officers to assess if someone staying on the street is at risk of harm from extreme weather conditions. If an extreme weather alert has been issued, officers are required to ask someone at risk to accompany them to shelter or have them make their own way to shelter.
If the person refuses or fails to comply with the officer, the police are authorized to use “reasonable force, if necessary,” to transport the person to an emergency shelter, the act says.
Prince George RCMP Insp. Chris Bomford said the RCMP haven’t received any direction on how to enforce the policy in the North.
“We always have been and always will be proactive in terms of people at risk,” Bomford said. “My expectation is we will get people on to shelter. We’ll wake them up, if necessary.”
Unlike in Vancouver, where the Vancouver Police Department is expected to begin enforcing the act later this month, officers generally don’t find many people sleeping or staying for extended periods outside once winter comes, he said.
“Because it’s so bitterly cold, we don’t see it very often,” Bomford said. “As it gets fairly cold, people tend to move indoors. For us it’s more looking for the person drinking in the bar who walks down an alley, sits down and maybe passes out.”
Police can use charges of being drunk in a public place to get people safely into the RCMP detachment cells, he said.