The LRCA cold weather shelter served close to 20 people during the 2020 snowstorm.
“On January 15, when the snow storm started, we had 11 folks come in for dinner, and half of them stayed over night. Then we had an addition three return for breakfast,” LRCA executive director, Christy Wood said.
What is unique about the LRCA’s shelter is they do not usually reach capacity for people staying over night. Most of the people who access shelter services come in for a meal, warm up, and take a shower, or do laundry before heading back outside.
“They’re quite concerned about their things. Because we’re a small shelter, we can’t store anything,” Wood said. “We also have a few shelter guests with pets. Unfortunately we’re not set up to take pets.”
With the large amount of snow that fell during the storm, some LRCA staff members were unable to make it in to work, however staff who live in Ladysmith came out to support the shelter. With many local businesses closed, the shelter saw an increase in guests.
“We had quite a few people come in just to hang out during the day. A lot of people hang out at the library, or the different coffee shops, but they were all closed. We were able to be open, and we had about half a dozen folks who were sleeping rough that came in to warm up during those days,” Wood said.
Everyone who accessed the LRCA cold weather shelter is local to Ladysmith.
From November 1 to December 31, 2019, the shelter had 35 unique individuals access the shelter to spend the night. Wood said homelessness in Ladysmith is varied. There are people who are couch surfing, which Wood considers a state of homelessness. There are people ‘sleeping rough’, which means they are homeless and sleeping outdoors. There are also people who live aboard boats in the Dogpatch.
“People come in and out of homelessness all the time, so it’s hard to paint that picture,” Wood said.
This is the first year that the LRCA cold weather shelter has been open every night. The shelter is funded through BC Housing, and runs from November 1 to March 31. They have 10 shelter beds, but on average only four or five individuals spend the night – and it is not the same four or five individuals staying the night.
Previously, they operated as an extreme weather shelter and could only open once a certain temperature threshold was hit. This created a barrier for individuals accessing the shelter, as the LRCA could not communicate with them effectively – and people would miss their opportunity to access the shelter.
“The only method of communication we had was we would put the sign out at 11:00 am that day, and we’d post it on social media. But, if you weren’t downtown and you didn’t have access to social media, you didn’t know if it was open or not. You could only guess,” Wood said.
“For shelter guests it was always a challenge,” Wood said. “They didn’t know what the temperature was, so a lot of times – if they’re not staying or sleeping downtown – they’re not going to hoof it down to the shelter if they don’t know whether it’ll be open or not. So, now that it’s open every night, it’s more reliable to them so they can come.”
Because Ladysmith is a smaller community, it’s hard to assess how many people are homeless. Wood said that homelessness point in time counts are often inaccurate because of the amount of people who may be couch surfing or staying with friends. With these low counts, Ladysmith homelessness programs receive less resources.
“In a community like Ladysmith, right now it’s manageable. If we could get in front of [homelessness] with some prevention dollars, maybe we could avoid the problem. Our population is going to grow. Ladysmith is one of the fastest growing communities. It would be really great if we could get in front of the eight ball, instead of being behind it. The opportunity is now,” Wood said.