Oh, the weather outside is frightful....
It may be Valentine’s Day this weekend, but the lyrics of that old Christmas standard come to mind as a polar vortex continues to sit astride the Prairies, plunging temperatures into the -30 C range, with extreme wind-chill values that feel more like -40 C or -50 C.
While the fortunate among us are sharing the love on this Hallmark-holiday occasion, many in Winnipeg have no time for greeting-card sentiments because they’re simply trying to survive the bitter elements. Weather this cold can be deadly, especially for people who are experiencing homelessness and inadequate shelter, or don’t have access to appropriate cold-weather gear.
Those who care for vulnerable people in this city have big hearts, indeed. Individual community members have been driving around offering sleeping bags, food and coffee to those huddled in bus shelters. Last weekend, after the heat failed at 1JustCity’s emergency warming centre on Pulford Street, the Salvation Army offered its chapel to the 30 people who would have been thrust back onto the street, and both the Spence Neighbourhood Association and Main Street Project provided transportation so people wouldn’t have to make the trek in the cold.
Anishiative, an Indigenous-led community youth group, has set up pop-up emergency warming shelters — two teepees and a prospector tent — near Thunderbird House with the help of volunteers. It has a fitting new name: the Community Caring Camp.
These acts of collaboration and care make for heartwarming stories, to be sure, but every overnight shelter and drop-in in the city is in need of more than Valentine’s weekend’s figurative warm-and-fuzzies. Specifically, what they require are actual warm-and-fuzzies: socks, coats, boots, mittens, tuques, face masks — you name it, people need it.
COVID-19 restrictions have made annual warm-clothing donation drives difficult, but the need hasn’t gone away. Financial donations are also critical to the survival of places that help others survive.
Even if one can’t make a financial or material donation, there are other ways to help. End Homelessness Winnipeg, the organization whose mandate is to execute Winnipeg’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, has numerous resource guides, outlining where people can go to warm up and who to call for help, that can be posted, printed and shared digitally and physically. Knowing what frostbite looks like or what number to call for a safe ride can go a long way in helping our fellow community members.
This past year, in particular, has been a stark reminder that the society we live in is not an equitable one. And it’s been a reminder that it’s incumbent on all of us to take care of each other in any way we can. The fact that there are people in our city who have nowhere safe and warm to go on the coldest nights of year is more than just heartbreaking — it’s unacceptable. And until we have policies and long-term solutions in place that ensure secure shelter for all, we need to support the community members and organizations on the ground who are, quite literally, saving lives.
On this hearts-and-flowers weekend whose cardboard-card messages trumpet love and care in all of its forms, a genuine show of affection could involve finding it in our hearts to do what we can — big or small — to ensure no one is left out in the cold.