A pot of corn chowder warms on the stove top as Jacqueline Caro fries up some bannock bread she’s made in the kitchen at Bethel Church on a frigid January night.
The smell of a homemade dinner will soon greet the homeless arriving at the Ladysmith Extreme Weather Shelter, which has been open over 45 days since early November.
““My first concern is where their mental health is and if they’re in a crisis, then its are they cold? Are they hungry?,” said Caro, who is a chef by trade and one of five shelter staff.
“It’s a lot of compassion, empathy, listening to them and connecting them to the resources in the community.”
BC Housing has provided the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association with funding for the second consecutive year to implement the program, which includes a dinner and breakfast.
In the next few weeks the extreme weather shelter will move to a permanent location in the Rialto Building at 631 1st Avenue – a building owned by the Crown corporation where the basement is currently under renovation.
“The word has really gotten out this year,” Caro said. “The community are dropping people off, the police are dropping people off here, taxi drivers. We’re getting a lot more exposure.”
The new space, which will be open from November to the end of March will have built-in security options, beds for 6 men and 4 women, storage for their possessions, showers, laundry facilities, a lounge and kitchen for cooking.
The plan was originally scheduled to open in November but construction delays have forced the opening into February.
BC Housing expects the project will come in under the budgeted $249,000 despite being behind schedule.
LRCA Program Manager Cindy Warren said weather shelter will continue to operate the way it has but with the benefits of a permanent location.
“We are grateful to have been provided with space at Bethel but it will be nice just to settle into our own space,” she said, noting that last year it was open 78 nights from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. The B.C. government has provided approximately $1.6-million this winter to fund close to 1,000 extreme weather shelter spaces in nearly 75 communities.
Criteria for the shelters opening up include temperatures near freezing, snow accumulation, or a forecast of winter rain.
Last week the Ladysmith shelter provided a warm place to sleep for a man from Montreal who bought a sailboat online only to travel to the island and found it was unlivable.
Others have been forced to make the decision between car insurance or rent.
“It’s so heartbreaking that it’s hard not to be affected by it,” said Caro.
In 2013, the death of 65-year-old Ladysmith resident Dave Alton, who died sleeping in a dugout in Aggie Field, was what caused close friends, the LRCA and several others to form a committee wanting to ensure no one else died locally due to homelessness.
MLA Doug Routley helped Ladysmith secure funding for the temporary shelter, and now a permanent space where the LRCA can continue to provide the essential service.
“Bit by bit it’s becoming more familiar to everybody and they’re recognizing the need in this town,” Warren said. “This is very unique community. If you can identify a problem here people will step up and they’re more than willing to help.”