'Hopefully I don't freeze to death': Saskatoon homeless face challenges navigating extreme cold

Homeless man Harvey Gamelin says he has been so desperate to find a warm place to sleep, he has had to break into the bottoms of apartments buildings just to find sanctuary from the cold. 

For that reason, Gamelin says it's not hard to understand why a man who was trapped in a Saskatoon dumpster for two days would have tried to sleep in there. The garbage bin was located in a suburb far from the city's downtown. 

"You gotta do what you gotta do to stay alive," said Gamelin as he prepared for a cold night on the street on Tuesday. 

The story of the man trapped in the dumpster — known only as Reuben — has served as a troubling reminder of the dangers of being homeless in Saskatchewan, where winter temperatures can drop below -40C with the windchill. 

Gamelin said he thinks the man was likely escaping from the wind. He said Tuesday he has run out of funding to stay at the city's shelters and would be spending the night on the street. 

"I usually just keep on walking. Hopefully I don't freeze to death," said Gamelin.

The province provides funding for emergency shelter to individuals through the Ministry of Social Services. However, the shelter says it does not automatically turn people away if they do not have that funding.

Getting downtown

Lisa Kusch, a nearby resident who rescued Reuben from the dumpster after she heard him calling for help, said he told her he had tried to sleep in the bin because he was unable to get back to the Lighthouse emergency shelter downtown. 

She said it raises questions about how to protect people who find themselves unable to travel downtown, where the city's shelters are located. 

"In terms of outreach, how do we create safe zones in other parts of the city?" said Kusch.

Submitted by Lisa Kusch

Ben Trachsel, a frontline worker at the Lighthouse, said the shelter operates an outreach bus that will take people to the shelter between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. CST. 

"Whether or not they find themselves in a situation where they can't get access to a phone or something like that, that's a different story," he said. 

"But, I mean, as many people as we actually hear about, of course we are going to do what we can to try and help them out."

He said the police service will drop people off at the Lighthouse if they need shelter but they do need to find a way downtown. 

"There really isn't that many places to go," said Trachsel.

People rarely turned away in the cold

Regarding Gamelin's situation, he said he cannot comment on individual clients but the shelter does allow people to stay when they don't have access to provincial funding, and works hard to connect them with the funding that is available.

He said it is very rare for people to be turned away, even if they have been flagged as having caused trouble at the shelter in the past. 

"Particularly in the middle of the winter, right? We're trying to make sure that as many people as possible can get out of the cold, can get the resources they need and have an improved quality of life for as long as they may need our services," said Trachsel. 

He said when the weather is cold the shelter finds ways to ensure nobody is left outside.