There are fewer people trying to sleep outdoors since the cold snap hit Chilliwack.
Due to the extreme cold, some shelters have gone over-capacity so no one has to be turned away.
“We will do our best to accommodate anyone who is trying to get in from the cold, along with the other amazing service providers here in Chilliwack,” said a Ruth and Naomi’s Mission official, posting on Facebook.
Brian Goldstone, CEO of Griffin Investigation & Security, along with bylaw enforcement officers from City of Chilliwack, are among those on patrol who have been checking in on those who won’t — or can’t — go into the shelters.
Goldstone said he spotted maybe a dozen people hunkering down outside, the most hardcore among them, last weekend.
But the cold is also actually pushing a few into taking steps toward detox.
“There are two people I’ve been working with now to get them to detox, and another five went in the last two weeks,” Goldstone said.
Sometimes they come to him, jump in his truck and say, “I’m done” when they’re ready to make a big change in their lives.
“It’s because they trust us enough to say they really need some help,” he said. “The cold weather brings them down low, and when they’re at their lowest that’s when they ask for help.”
Locally, those who are addicted can either access the Riverstone Home/Mobile Detox/Daytox program or the Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) clinic, both at Chilliwack General Hospital.
The checks that Griffin personnel conduct on the streets are compassionate in nature.
“We do wellbeing checks because it’s the right thing to do. Any of our cars, it doesn’t matter what job they’re on, will stop and do a check on someone. It doesn’t take more than a minute,” said Goldstone.
Griffin Security, with the company motto “Treating everyone with respect” will check under tarps, in tents, sleeping bags, even in snowbanks to make sure no one is freezing or unconscious after overdosing.
“They appreciate it,” Goldstone said. “The biggest thing we are doing with these checks is encouraging them to go inside.”
Even some of the people that have given them trouble in the past are behaving exceptionally well because they want to keep having a warm place to sleep for the night. Griffin Security is contracted by a number of the service-providers in town to keep the peace, in the case of a violent outburst or incident.
During this cold snap, security has only been called in once for a fight, which is unusual, Goldstone underlined.
There are always a few holdouts who simply won’t come indoors.
Garrett Schipper, manager of building and regulatory enforcement for City of Chilliwack, said their bylaw officers are part of the downtown patrols that are conducted several times a day, seven days a week. They added two more full-time bylaw officers to the staff roster just before Christmas.
“A lot more folks have been going into the shelters,” Schipper said. “We find out which shelters might have room for the night and encourage them to go in.”
Some shelters have been full to capacity since the deep freeze. but they’ve been bending the rules to help the most vulnerable people living rough.
“Ruth and Naomi’s really stepped up to the plate, to make room and let them to sleep on the floor,” Goldstone said.
“Even guys that are banned are being let in for the night. I was really impressed with the position they took.”
Goldstone says he’s met several guys, mostly the entrenched population of addicted homeless people, who refuse to stay in a shelter.
“Sometimes they get agoraphobic, where they can’t be any place where there’s crowds of people,” he said.
For some driven by fentanyl addiction, the shelter restrictions are too much to bear. The rules say once you’re bedded down for the night, you can’t go out and then try to come back in later.
But they made a special arrangement for one person in particular, who’d been out on the streets for more than seven years.
“When he started coming in to the shelter, he would only stay about 45 minutes. He told them it started to hurt lying on the frozen pavement.
“Now he’s spending the night. So it worked. He actually gave me a big hug,” Goldstone said.
It takes consistent efforts to get anywhere, and they had to bend over backwards to help that one individual.
“All we can do is make sure they are OK. We can’t make them go in.”