KAMLOOPS - It's been nine days since New Life Community opened its doors to those in Kamloops seeking overnight shelter from the cold streets and so far things have been running smoothly.
Executive director Stan Dueck says the New Life began giving people a place to sleep on Monday, Dec. 12, to help take some pressure off of the Emerald Hostel. The Canadian Mental Health Association announced at a police committee and task force meeting in October that Kamloops would have emergency weather shelters open all winter long.
"(Emerald Hostel) is typically full year-round because of people waiting for housing or people that have been there for longer term, so it just worked really good for them... and it’s worked really good for us," Dueck says.
The Emerald Hostel in downtown Kamloops has enough shelter beds for 42 people, but with New Life Community adding beds during the winter, it means at least 25 more people will be given a bed for the night.
People still have to go through the intake process at Emerald Hostel, Dueck says, but the hostel generally tries to send the first 25 people who show up at their door to New Life, in order to uphold their promise of not turning anyone away this season.
"For the most part... it’s been very smooth, 22 to 25 people every night and 25 is pretty much our max," he says, adding Emerald provides sheets and "whatever they need for the night."
To protect the safety of everyone in both shelters, Dueck says backpacks and other bags are sealed for the night, so if any weapons or drugs are inside, there's no danger of the items coming out in the shelter.
"That way everyone comes in, they’ve got clean clothes on, clean pajamas on, they have clean sheets to sleep on," he says. "It just makes it, I think, a safer environment for everybody."
Dueck says the main priority for New Life is to give people a warm place to stay, so although there are rules, the shelter tries not to over-complicate things.
"It’s not like you want to put a whole bunch of rules in place," he says. "You want to get people out of the cold, give them a meal, give them a place to sleep (and) breakfast in the morning."
Getting people out of the cold was the driving force behind the introduction of extra beds in the New Life Community building, the first year the organization has done this. In the past, emergency weather response shelters in Kamloops were activated in low temperatures. Last year, once the temperature hit -3 C, the shelters would open, but other years the temperature would have to dip to -7 C.
Christa Mullaly, spokesperson for the Kamloops Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said in the October meeting that B.C. Housing made the request for emergency weather response shelters to be open all winter long.
DEALING WITH DRUGS ON SITE
Dueck says although staff has had to use naloxone on several occasions at or near New Life, they have yet to use it while folks stay there overnight.
"Overnight, we haven’t used it at all that I know of, but we have used it in the day room during the day," he says.
He says staff members are fully trained on how to properly administer naloxone, a potentially life-saving drug which can be administered when someone is showing signs of an opioid overdose.
"We always have naloxone on site," he says. "Nowadays you absolutely need to have the training and the kits available working in the environment we work in."
Dueck says staff likely hasn't had to use it during the after-hours shelter because of the intake process people go through at Emerald Hostel. If someone appears very high or agitated, Dueck says the safest place for them to be is usually in the emergency room.
"If somebody goes to intake and they’re really high or really in a bad place, then chances are they’d be better off at emergency or another location other than the Emerald shelter or our shelter," he says. "Typically they just want to go and find a bed... crash and get to sleep."
The building is open seven days a week and Dueck says there is no exception for Christmas holidays. New Life will hold its annual Christmas Eve dinner beginning at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24.
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