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You think it’s cold? Try living outside

For people struggling without secure housing, this week's cold snap can be dangerous
A 27-year-old Port Coquitlam man told The Tri-City News that despite the freezing temperatures this week he prefers sleeping outside to staying in a shelter.

For the average Tri-City resident, winter weather usually means a slower commute and a few minutes outside shovelling the walk. 

But for homeless people struggling without secure housing, the freezing temperatures currently gripping the region are dangerous, increasing the chances of severe injury — even death — according to Andrea Corrigan. 

The executive director of the Hope for Freedom Society, which coordinates the bridge shelter in the Tri-Cities, said her organization is seeing more people in desperate need for a place to warm up. 

“They are definitely chilly when they come in,” she said. 

But mat programs like the bridge shelter are only available during the overnight hours. With temperatures consistently below freezing throughout the day, Corrigan said there is a need for warming shelters during the daytime to give homeless people respite from the cold.

“We see first-hand the struggles of our neighbours without homes to stay warm and dry, and have somewhere safe to do so,” she said. 

Since the snow began to fall on the weekend, the bridge shelter has hosted an average of 14 to 17 people a night. Another 13 to 14 are using mats provided by Trinity United Church in Port Coquitlam, whose shelter is activated during extreme weather events. 

“It is never something I am OK with, regardless of the weather,” Corrigan said of the homeless situation, "but it becomes especially concerning when it gets this cold.”



But even temperatures going as low as –10 C are not enough for some homeless people to take advantage of the services offered.

One man who spoke to The Tri-City News said while this week has been frigid, he has managed to stay warm outdoors. 

“I sleep right here,” said the man, who asked not to be identified, pointing to a covered side entrance of a Port Coquitlam business. 

He has a blue foam camping mat he can lie down on, a good sleeping bag and several blankets, all of which he said he can fit into his backpack. 

“It has been OK,” he said. “I stay pretty toasty because my sleeping bag is a minus-10 C, minus-15 C type of thing. The blankets are sort of like extra insulation, so it keeps me pretty toasty.”

The 27-year-old, who said he grew up in PoCo, said he avoids shelters because they are often used by people who are on drugs, adding he prefers “to do my own thing.”

During the day, he warms up in a nearby coffee shop, where he said he could take advantage of free WIFI before his phone was stolen. Some of the staff have gotten to know him and a few people give him gift cards he can redeem for food and warm beverages.

A daytime warming shelter could be beneficial for homeless people in the community, he said, adding that such a facility would offer a place to dry off, warm up and maybe plug in an electronic device. 

But the main things he said he needs are housing and a job.

“Maybe with some luck, I’ll be off the streets,” he said. “That’s the only way out for me, basically.”



Another homeless man, who asked to be identified only as Tim, said he thinks a daytime warming shelter would be popular, particularly with the freezing temperatures expected this week.

“That would be good,” he said. “If they did that, that would be nice.”

Tim had been residing at the permanent shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam, where residents are allowed to hang out indoors during the day. But when he got into an altercation with another shelter user a couple of weeks ago, he was told he would have to leave.

Since then, the 35-year-old has been living outdoors, spending most of his time at his camp, where he has a propane stove that keeps him warm. 

But he recently ran out of fuel and said Tuesday he spent the last few nights huddled up outside the front entry of the Gordon shelter.

“I am probably going to do something today and get another tank of propane,” he said. 

Tim said he has been living on the streets for more than a year following an on-the-job accident that left him unable to work. He added that he also struggles with addiction issues.

With limited options for places to go during the day, he said he often gravitates toward a recreation centre or library for a place to warm up. 



Tim is not alone.

Todd Gnissios, the executive director of the Coquitlam Public Library, said many homeless people visit CPL's two branches looking for a place to escape the elements and pass the time.

“We don’t see ourselves as an active warming shelter,” he said, “but we are open to anyone that comes in.”

He said library staff typically start to notice more homeless people using the library when the rainy weather arrives in the fall. For the most part, there are not many conflicts and many librarians are friendly with some of the regulars. 

But Gnissios noted library staff are not equipped to deal with some of the mental health and addiction issues that often accompany people who live on the streets. A warming shelter could be a better way of providing the homeless with some of the supports they need, he said. 

“We are not set up or trained to deal with people who have multiple issues, whether it be substance abuse, mental health or a combination,” he said. “These are really challenging issues for an organization like ours that is essentially a public service.”



• To stay at the bridge shelter, email the Hope for Freedom Society at or call 604-464-0475. Those in need will be told where the designated pickup points and times for the church shelter location.  

• The Extreme Weather Shelter is currently offering 20 beds at Trinity United Church (2211 Prairie Ave., Port Coquitlam) between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

• To donate clothing items or to volunteer for the bridge shelter program, email Hope for Freedom Society at or call 604-813-9197.