Makeshift shelter in St. Boniface proves worth as frigid temperatures take hold

A makeshift warming shelter in Winnipeg’s St. Boniface neighbourhood, which opens when temperatures plunge, was a popular place Tuesday night — and is expected to be for the rest of this week.

“We expect to have far more people tonight,” said Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, which operates the shelter in a city-owned building at 604 St. Mary’s Rd., most recently used as a COVID test site.

The building has capacity for 20 people and on Tuesday, there were eight people that stayed overnight and several others that came and went, Willis said. She expects to see closer to 30 people during the course of the evening on Wednesday.

Street Links crews go out to places where they know people living on the street seek refuge and offer them space in the shelter.

“Not everybody’s willing to go to a shelter, but certainly the people in ATM vestibules and transit shelters, I think they all came last night,” Willis said.

Staff will also help connect people to income and housing supports in the community.

The shelter opens on an as-needed basis, and Willis expects the current stretch will go until Saturday, when the frigid temperatures are expected to break.

The municipal building was quickly transformed into the shelter for the first time earlier this month, following the death of Kayla Rae in a bus shelter at the corner of Tache Avenue and Goulet Street in St. Boniface.

Rae was found by Street Links outreach workers, under a pile of blankets.

Willis said at the time there was a desperate need for shelter infrastructure on that side of the Red River, not just the inner city.

People around the province are urged to call 211 if they spot someone struggling in the cold, said Daniel Leonard, director of the service in Manitoba.

The 211 service directs people to resources ranging from mental health services to food banks, and will locate an outreach team to send assistance as soon as possible, director Daniel Leonard says. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

The 24/7 phone line, available anywhere in Manitoba and in more than 150 languages, helps connect people with social, health and government resources close at hand.

It directs people to resources ranging from mental health services to food banks, and will locate an outreach team to send assistance as soon as possible, Leonard said.

“We’re able to find the community resource for them. Think of it as a very personal Google search for someone,” he said. Sometimes you don’t even know what the help is that you need but if you call 211 . . . we will help sort that out.”

The service has been getting about 300-400 calls per week recently, Leonard said. Emergency food need is the No. 1 reason for the calls, while shelter outreach is right behind.

The 211 staff have direct links to Main Street Project, Downtown Community Street Patrol, St. Boniface Street Links and multiple shelters and supports.

“If you see someone in need of a wellness check, you can call 211 and be connected to the right outreach van working in the area,” Leonard said.

“There are multiple vans and organizations doing great work, but it can be hard to know where to find the right number for wherever you are — 211 already knows and is ready to help.”

Temperatures in the southern part of the province are expected to reach a high of only –24 C to –22 C on Wednesday, with the wind chill making it feel more like –30.

Thursday’s forecast calls for highs around –20 C but gusting winds, up to 50 km/h, will raise the wind chill to nearly –40.

A slight warm-up arrives for Christmas weekend with highs between –17 C and –19 C.

The normal high for this time of year is –11 C.

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