Capital's homeless, support services struggle with 'brutal' conditions

Non-profits in Gatineau and Ottawa are scrambling to clothe and shelter the homeless during a November cold spell that's brought mid-winter conditions much earlier than normal.

Ottawa-Gatineau, Kingston, Cornwall and Maniwaki all had record low temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday. 

It felt as cold as -25C in Ottawa-Gatineau with the wind chill that night.

"There's a need for men's gloves, especially size large," said Benoit Leblanc, director of Gatineau-based Itinérance Zéro, which distributes winter garments to those most at risk.

While donations were plentiful last year, Leblanc and his crew hadn't fully replenished its stock of clothing before this cold snap hit. 

He said he's also looking for socks, blankets and large, XL and XXL men's coats.

Stu Mills/CBC

Leblanc believes there's a link between the recent floods and tornadoes in the area and the housing shortage.

Such disasters mean more victims, and disaster victims are at risk of falling into homelessness, he said.

"There is certainly going to be an increase this year in terms of homelessness," he said in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada.

Likewise, the executive director for the homeless shelter Gîte Ami in Gatineau said her group typically works with partners to open temporary shelters providing roofs for those in need.

But Lise Paradis said those arrangements haven't been made yet and her shelter's maximum capacity is only 60.

"We presently have to turn away between three and 10 people each night," she said in French. 

Jérôme Bergeron/CBC

'They shouldn't be living like this'

In Ottawa, people are living in a tent community near Bayview station after their rooming house burned down in April.

Shawna Thibodeau and Brigitte Boulay from the volunteer non-profit We Live in the Shadow brought them cots on Tuesday then foot warmers and socks the next day.

Jérôme Bergeron/CBC

"The conditions are brutal. They shouldn't be living like this," Boulay said.

While the City of Ottawa said it's seeking a solution for this group, the two believe it's unacceptable they're still in tents in the woods. 

"The problem is 'working on it' isn't good enough for me," said Boulay.

Stu Mills/ CBC

The group said those living in the community — some with ripped tents — don't have friends or family to help. Others are trying to avoid shelters as they cope with addiction issues. 

Boulay and Thibideau would like to see the red tape torn down and for the city to find homes for these people before the temperature drops further. 

"The people who were caught off guard actually had no choice," Thibodeau said.

"Whether the cold was coming or not, they didn't have access to anything."