Emergency room pressed into service to house people under cold weather policy during late December

The cold snap that hit Thompson and Manitoba in the last third of December resulted in the activation of the cold weather policy to ensure that homeless people had a place to stay, but the warm-up buildings at the city's outdoor rinks were not employed because there was no one available to staff them.

Paullette Simkins, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Thompson homeless shelter, said a job becoming vacant during that time period meant that there was no one to staff the warm-up buildings, which are provided free of charge by the city. However, the emergency room at the Thompson General Hospital provided additional space on three nights when the homeless shelter did not have enough room to house additional people.

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"On average between the hospital and the shelter lobby, we had about eight individuals in each location," said Simkins. "Most of those that were using the lobby and the hospital were transient individuals."

Put in place in January 2013, the cold weather policy provides additional space beyond that provided at the homeless shelter between Nov. 1 and the end of March on nights when the temperature or wind chill dips below -35 degrees Celsius. Over the winter of 2013-14 it was enacted 69 times and housed nearly 700 people at the Eastwood Park warm-up building. The following winter, there were 56 nights cold enough for the policy to be enacted, but people only utilized the facility on 11 nights and only a total of 52 people were housed, all in either November of December. There were two nights that it was enacted in December 2015, housing a total of 16 people.

Much of the reduction in the need for additional shelter has been attributed to Project Northern Doorway, Thompson's housing first initiative, which helped those homeless people who were the heaviest users of the homeless shelter as well as emergency services find permanent housing in apartments and a group facility on Cree Road, thus reducing the number of nights when the homeless shelter is full.

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