The bitter cold is something easy to beat when you have a warm bed to go home to. But for Vancouver’s homeless population, braving the snow and fridged temperatures is an extreme battle.
“Definitely talking to people on the streets, I mean, they say it’s cold. They say it takes the wind out of them,” Jeremy Hunka, Union Gospel Mission (UGM) spokesperson, told Daily Hive.
“Being on the streets is hard. It feels like it’s a massive challenge to improve your circumstances and get off the streets when you don’t have a place to go.”
Hunka said that many of the homeless he has talked to have been struggling with the latest streak of cold weather.
“They are not used to this. They are not ready for it,” he said. “They are already vulnerable because they have been on the street for a while. Their immune system is already severely diminished because they have been in the elements.”
“This week, we have been filling up our 72-bed shelter and several of those emergency mats as well,” said Hunka.
In addition to having a place to sleep, the UGM provides the homeless with showers, warm meals, and laundry services.
UGM has also been handing out warm weather gear, such as toques, jackets, shoes, and sweaters.
“When the weather is this extreme, the danger is extreme for people on the street,” said Hunka
Hunka says the best way for people to help the homeless during the extreme cold is to donate to organizations like the UGM, that have long-term strategies in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those on the streets.
Keep in mind that when donating clothing, it is important to ensure the item will keep an individual warm. Waterproof gear is always in high demand.
Hunka says that carrying around an extra toque or pair of gloves is also a helpful way to give back when you are passing someone on the streets who looks like they could use warming up.
“If you’re face to face with somebody looking for something and you can tell they are in trouble, number one look them in the face and treat them like a human being because a lot of people feel forgotten and abandoned especially now when the weather is like this.”