Winter’s here and with it the cold and snow that add to the struggle so many homeless people face living on the street. The shelters will fill up quickly all season, but especially on cold nights. At Bissell Centre, we are trying to do whatever we can to help out. Our drop-in centre is among several in town that are staying open longer hours during the winter. Our hours expanded as of November 1 to 15 hours per day, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
Last year we stayed open around the clock on nights that dipped to 20 below, and we are prepared to do that again if called upon to do so. If you see a homeless person on the street, please encourage them to head over to the drop-in. In addition to offering respite from the cold, we can ensure they have proper winter gear as well.
As you may know, Bissell Centre also operates around the clock every day of the year through our 24/7 Mobile Assistance Program (MAP). Two of our outreach workers are out in the 24/7 MAP van keeping an eye out for homeless individuals who may be in distress or who are sleeping rough in the back lanes, in empty lots, or other places where their safety is at risk. They will also respond if you see someone who is intoxicated or causing a disturbance.
I also know that the homeless can, at times, engage in behaviour that is upsetting to area residents. Our team is there to intervene in those cases that are not criminal. If you see someone committing a crime or exhibiting threatening behaviour, please call the police. Otherwise, to reach our 24/7 team, dial 211 and ask the operator to dispatch them. They will do their utmost to get there as quickly as possible. Not only will we work hard to transport homeless individuals to a safer, more suitable location (like a shelter, our drop-in centre, or even to the hospital), we will offer ongoing assistance to help them with longer term solutions such as access to housing, health care, and other services.
The 24/7 MAP service is also a Housing First program and its purpose includes doing what we can to place the chronically homeless in a home. Bissell Centre is one of several Housing First organizations in the area. Each year we are contracted to find housing solutions for 240 chronically homeless individuals and families and we find places for them all over the city, away from the urban core. So, if you think we can help, please remember to call 211.
Mark is the CEO of Bissell Centre.