The temperature hovered between –5C and –10C, fortifying an icy wind as people sat around propane fire pits, behind the protection of tarps, eating a tasty lunch.
This was a meal served on Feb. 8 in the parking lot behind the Crossroads Free Methodist Church and near the School District 83 admin building in Salmon Arm. Meals have been provided by volunteers for months on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at noon.
People came and went, some who were neighbours and were just there for a little healthy food and conversation, others who have the added difficulties that go with living rough.
Although the temperature hadn’t yet dropped to about –20C as it did Monday night, one man said he was managing to stay warm in a tent. Volunteers tried to give him an extra coat, but he said he was warm enough in his hoodie.
Another man told the Observer he had been couch surfing, something he was grateful for as the temperature dropped. However, he didn’t want to wear out his welcome. He spends some nights outside.
He said he’s been in Salmon Arm for about six years, and things are expensive. Getting a place is tough and he’s pleased with the housing that’s being built by BC Housing and the local Canadian Mental Health Association.
He answered with an emphatic “yes” when asked if he’s worried about the cold.
“To me, I’m getting older, I’m like 52, and the cold it hurts. It’s very painful, it’s like fire.”
He has a leg injury as well. “It’s just hard, it’s all downright hard.”
He said the pandemic means there is no longer any place to charge a phone and washrooms are scarce, particularly downtown.
He explained he’s had some difficulties with the homeless shelter so he can no longer go there.
That said, he thinks Salmon Arm is a generous town.
He also said police and city workers have been pretty good; police will check places to see if people who don’t have homes are OK.
Lunch organizers Chrissy Deye and Monica Kriese say numbers have been going up and people are really appreciative of a hot nutritious meal.
Lieutenant Joel Torrens with the Salvation Army said the shelter at McGuire Lake has been hovering around 20 to 25 people per night, but has capacity for more. He said this is a time when people who don’t normally come in might make an exception.
The organization has been thinking about a temperature drop for a couple of weeks, he said, and wants to make sure no one gets stuck outside in the cold. He adds that, not to generalize, a lot of people living outside are incredibly resourceful and creative – and there are resources available.