Michael Loren gives an impassioned plea to people eating at the Salvation Army’s hot lunch on Wednesday, Jan. 22, requesting their support for a friendship-type centre in Salmon Arm for people who are in need of housing. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Plan in works to keep Salmon Arm’s homeless people warm in extreme weather

Advocate aims higher, wants a 24/7 friendship centre operating in city

Michael Loren has been spreading the word, word that is not falling on deaf ears.

On Wednesday, Jan. 22 he took his message to the Salvation Army’s hot lunch program at its church.

Loren would like to see a 24-hour friendship/drop-in centre open in Salmon Arm, so people who don’t have housing will have someplace to go when they’re wet or cold, or simply in need of food or friendship. Loren has housing but, because he cares, he spends a lot of time with people who don’t.

He passed around a book with blank pages to people at the lunch, asking them to record their opinions on a friendship centre.

“We need someplace to go when the Salvation Army is closed. If you agree with me, I’m passing around the book right now; tell me the story, why we should open a friendship centre.”

Joining him in saying a few words at the hot lunch program was David Byers, community services manager with the Salvation Army.

“And yes, I believe definitely there’s a need for people to keep warm, especially this time of year when it’s rainy, when it’s cold, there’s definitely a need,” Byers said. “I agree with Michael 100 per cent. We need to find a place just so people can get out of the cold, have someplace to eat, have coffee. I think that would be just perfect.”

Read more: Freezing cold emphasizes need for drop-in centre for Salmon Arm’s homeless

Read more: Salmon Arm’s Salvation Army officers enthuisastic about future in community

Also at the lunch was Lieutenant Joel Torrens with the Salvation Army. He said during the extreme cold, staff and volunteers have been checking to make sure there were no people out in the cold.

“What we saw was that people had it figured out. They were either at someone’s place or had somewhere to be – but that’s probably because they didn’t know there were other options available,” he remarked.

The Salvation Army is now hoping to compile a list of 20 or so people who would be willing to volunteer if the temperature were to drop again.

“We looked at historic temperatures in Salmon Arm, and – 15C, whether it’s with windchill or without, is the point where we think we need to take extra steps and make sure there’s a space for people. So what we’re asking for is a team of volunteers who can be on call if the temperature dips below the – 15C marker. They can come and open up the Lighthouse and we can have a safe, warm space for people.”

The idea would be to use the food bank area in the Lighthouse Shelter at 441 Third St. SW, where there’s currently a pool table, cafe seating and a television. While it’s a small space, Torren says he hopes it would be adequate to get it started.

“We do see that people go to the library, we do see that people go to some of the businesses in town. We just want to be a safe option for people if they don’t have anywhere to go or want to be with us.”

Read more: Affordable housing project in Salmon Arm expected to be complete by winter 2020

What would be ideal if the extreme cold returns, he says, is for someone who is staying at the shelter, to then be able in the morning to go over to the food bank side of the building in order to stay warm until the shelter opens at night.

Once the volunteers are signed up, Torren said the next job will be to make sure everyone is aware there is an option during extreme cold for those people who are without housing.

“We want to make sure this is something people know about, know is available – and we have people from the community who are ready to respond on those coldest days so we don’t have to have anybody stuck outside.”

Torrens said everyone is on the same side. As if illustrating his point, Torrens heads out quickly during the hot lunch as he has an appointment with the mayor to talk about the city’s wish – to make sure no one is left outside when the temperature drops.

Torrens says as soon as a volunteer base is compiled, the extreme weather plan will be activated.

“We want to step up and do more if we can.”



marthawickett@saobserver.net

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