Giving shelter

Homeless & cold

By Janessa Hynes

Cold and severe weather are uncomfortable for everyone, but for Nova Scotia’s homeless, severe weather can be life threatening.

Now, a group of local aid agencies, in conjunction with 211 and Public Health in the Halifax area, are enacting a new protocol that gets people in need of warmth off the streets and into warming areas on cold days.

The group, named the Cold Weather Committee, is made up of Adsum for Women and Children, Phoenix Youth Program, Shelter Nova Scotia, Salvation Army and Out of the Cold Winter Shelter, as well as Mobile Outreach Street Health.

Together, the agencies have developed a cold weather protocol that triggers whenever very cold or severe weather is in the forecast. The protocol is enacted when the temperature is below – 15C (including wind chill) or when there is significant winter weather.

Under the protocol, the medical officer of health signals an alert whenever there is notice of looming bad weather, prompting social agencies supporting those who are homeless to prepare for an influx of people in the new daytime warming centres and overnight shelters.

“Overexposure poses significant health risks including hypothermia or frostbite,” says Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Medical Officer of Health for Halifax, Eastern Shore, and West Hants. “Halifax has a homeless population that is at higher risk of serious health issues. As a city, we have a responsibility to respond to that need.”

Patti Melanson, team lead and outreach nurse at Mobile Outreach Street Health, said the Cold Weather Committee’s work included connecting with people who are vulnerable and giving them transportation to warming areas during the cold spells.

“We understand people who are homeless may have places they feel comfortable going when cold weather occurs, but if there’s a snowstorm and everything is closed, the warming centre is open for them,” she said. 

Help from the public

In addition to the work done by social agencies in Halifax, people can also call 211 to get help for anyone they see suffering from cold weather.

211 is a province-wide information and referral service. The service has partnered with the Cold Weather Committee to ensure anybody in need of warmth will receive it. When called for help, they connect with local agencies to provide relief.

“At this time of year we tend to see an increase in calls for help coping with the effects of cold winter weather, specifically for basic needs like shelter, warm clothing or help with utilities,” says Mike Myette, executive director of 211 Nova Scotia. “We’re always here to help.”

Myette notes that while the 211 service works with the Cold Weather Committee’s protocol in Halifax, 211 will help anyone in Nova Scotia in need find resources near them in the event of cold weather or other challenging circumstances.