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Nowhere to go: Heat wave causes problems for Kamloops' homeless

During extreme weather with plus 30 Celsius temperatures, homeless and transient populations face unique challenges like finding shelter and water.
July 07, 2017 - 4:46 PM

KAMLOOPS – People with nowhere to go are affected first when extreme weather hits and with the current heat wave, how does the homeless population in Kamloops cope?

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement warning residents of hot, dry weather lasting through Sunday. Temperatures peaked yesterday, July 6, at 38.5 Celsius and the heat will directly affect street people's health, where they can sleep, and where they go during the day.

On any given day there are people hanging around outside the downtown library, but around 1 p.m. on Wednesday there's no one to be found. It's odd because the space is a central meeting point and a very common place where street people use the public washrooms.

The usually popular riverbanks at Riverside Park are empty. Around 2 p.m., two men were sitting under the shade of a tree in front of the Sandman Centre, seeking shelter from the blazing sun and 36 C temperatures.

One of the men is homeless and staying at a local shelter, the other says he has an apartment but has many homeless friends. They both carried backpacks and water bottles, and one explained there's a good reason why it was so hard to find street people; yesterday was income assistance day.

One of the men says on really hot days, he brings enough water with him and sits under the same tree. 

There is space at the day rooms at the New Life Community and the Jump program, but the men explain there's not enough room for everyone. One points out during the summer, most people will wander around just looking for water

"It's hell. Most of the homeless guys walking around are just looking for a tap," he says.

One saw outreach workers walking around handing out water, but the other hadn't.

I was only walking around for a few hours in dark pants and a long sleeved shirt and I was completley spent, exhausted. I can't imagine having to spend an entire day and night outside in this weather.

While Kamloops doesn't have an extreme heat weather response, outreach workers are in the field when scorching weather hits, Bob Hughes with ASK Wellness says. Crews walk the streets looking for dehydrated people and hand out bottled water.

"We will be really vigilant, especially during income assistance week because that's when people tend to over-drink and fall asleep in the sun," Hughes says.

Even the simple task of just getting around turns into a serious challenge in hot weather.

"We assume people can drive around and get things done, but can you imagine walking around in the heat of the day trying to find assistance?" Hughes says.

The New Life Community's dayroom is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, including long weekends. Hughes says the space can provide a break from the outdoors.

Anyone on the North Shore can stop in to the Jump program at 184 Royal Ave. for a rest from the sun and a meal.

The program has been around for five years and was designed to fill gaps in services that existed at the time, Glenn Hilke, Jump program co-ordinator says. It's volunteer-driven with no paid staff.

"Depending on how hot it is, it will definitely affect how many people we see during the course of the day," Hilke says. "Our place is air conditioned and it's appreciated, people do make comments."

The space is now open Monday to Saturday each week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. serving breakfast and lunches on each of the days and dinner on Saturdays. The doors are open until 5 p.m. on Saturday and there's also a free outdoor produce market.

Hughes says since the last count in October, there are more than 100 homeless people in Kamloops with only 44 shelter beds available. That leaves a big gap when it comes to overnight shelters. Of the approximately 60 people with nowhere to sleep, most set up camp in parks and later in the year prefer to camp along the riverbanks.

"The riverbanks are a challenge. The mosquitoes are appalling right now. Because of that we see more folks setting up in parks at night, near the river but not on the riverbank," Hughes says.

Anyone interested in helping out can drop off donations of bottled water, sunscreen, hats, or bus tickets to ASK Wellness at 433 Tranquille Rd., New Life Community at 181 West Victoria St. or the Jump program at 184 Royal Ave. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kim Anderson or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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