Surviving central B.C.'s extreme cold without stable housing

Dated: February 8 2019

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Surviving central B.C.'s extreme cold without stable housing

Temperatures dipped to –36 C Monday night in Prince George

Irene Murdock is living in an apartment with cold air blowing through a broken window because she can't find another place to live that she can afford. (Audrey McKinnon)

Irene Murdock has to sleep on her bathroom floor to stay warm.

"My place is kind of cold," she said, explaining that the window in her apartment is broken. "The only place I can sleep is the bathroom."

Murdock has health problems and said she relies on a monthly disability payment of $1,000 to get by. She hasn't left her current accommodation because the rent is affordable at $400. 

"I'm having problems looking for another place. Another place is $600 or $700," she told CBC reporter Audrey McKinnon. "I'm stuck in that place."

Murdock is one of the locals that came into St. Vincent de Paul drop-in centre in Prince George, B.C., on Tuesday to warm up and have a meal.

Extremely low temperatures in central and northern B.C. have been making it even more difficult for people without stable housing to stay warm.

Monday night, temperatures in Prince George dipped to –36 C, and the Burns Lake and Chetwynd areas hit a new record low at –38 C. 

Living in the cold

Robert Noseworthy has a room at the Lotus Hostel in Prince George, but he knows what it's like to be homeless in the winter.

"When I first came to Prince George in 2013, I built a few camps myself," Noseworthy told Daybreak North producer Nicole Oud.

Robert Noseworthy said it can be hard to get a spot in a shelter when it's cold because there are not enough beds. (Nicole Oud)

However, he said he often had to rebuild his camp in different locations because bylaw officers would chase him away.

"You have to move around all the time, and it's not good because ... the shortage of beds or places where [you] can go to sleep and keep warm," said Noseworthy. 

Inadequate housing

Finding adequate, stable housing is a pressing issue for many in Prince George, said Bernie Goold, president of the St. Vincent de Paul centre.

"Even on welfare as a single person you get approximately $560 a month and to find a place is just next to impossible. Affordable housing is such a need in Prince George," Goold told Daybreak North host Caroline de Ryk.

The drop-in centre serves three hot meals a day to those in need and has been opening its doors as early as 7:30 a.m. to allow people to warm up before they serve breakfast at 8:30 a.m.

"A lot of them have mental health issues. All we are good at is feeding them. We don't have the manpower to take care of their very complex needs," said Goold.

She said they are in desperate need of clothing donations, especially items like long-johns, winter coats, socks and toques to help keep their visitors warm. 

'We say a prayer'

Goold said they are "deeply concerned" that with the cold temperatures, they may not see some of their regulars the next morning. 

"When someone hasn't been seen, the buzz goes around like crazy," she said.

"We say a prayer and ask God to keep them safe and hope we see them tomorrow."

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Steven Axford

Steve Axford grew up in Victoria, BC and has always been active in his community. Steve is a Victoria Cougars Hockey Team alumni as well as a Victoria Shamrocks (intermediate) alumni. During his time....

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