The City of Kelowna is taking a page out of Montreal’s book as it tries to find ways to keep homeless people warm during cold snaps.
The B.C. city is running a new thermal shelters pilot project.
Thanks to funding from BC Housing, Kelowna is getting 27 of the shelters, costing between $500 and $700 each.
The shelters come in two sizes to accommodate one or two people.
“This will complement our other tools that we are using including the warming bus, tents, [and] warming supplies,” said Colleen Cornock, the City of Kelowna’s community safety services manager.
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The city says just using the occupants’ body heat, the internal temperature in the shelters can be 15 to 18 degrees warmer.
“They have been used for this exact purpose in Montreal and internationally in Czechia. They are a lightweight foam. They are easy to put up, assemble, and take down. They are intended to be durable for this purpose,” said Cornock.
Kevin Schlemko, who is currently experiencing homelessness, believes the shelters could help.
He said he has been sleeping outdoors almost all winter, using just cardboard or blankets to try to keep himself warm.
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“I have no feeling left in the tips of my fingers at this point. This has definitely been the worst fricken winter I’ve ever had,” Schlemko said.
“I was outside all but a week this winter. It was fricken brutal: a damp blanket in the middle of a fricken blizzard so anything you can put between yourself and the weather outside [is] definitely useful.”
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The plan is to deploy the shelters during cold snaps at the city’s designated outdoor sheltering location in the north end of downtown.
However, there are some concerns about the location.
“It is not clean or safe. It is definitely not safe. It is way away from people,” said Chelsea Denis, who is also experiencing homelessness.
“But I do think [the thermal shelters] would help keep people warm, for sure, as long as there is a lot of them because there are a lot of us.”
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The city points out it only has a limited number of the shelters and says if they let people use them anywhere, it would be hard to manage the pilot project.
“We only have 27 units, so it is really incumbent on us to monitor where they are being used so we have the ability to bring them back in, clean them, sanitize them and then redistribute them to folks,” Cornock said.
With cooler weather in the forecast, the new shelters could be deployed in the next few days.
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