Vancouver's homeless struggling to stay warm during record-cold October nights

Record-cold temperatures in Vancouver for early October mean demand is already high for clothing and bedding donations.

Wednesday was the coldest Oct. 9 in the city in 60 years, with temperatures dropping to freezing point in some areas overnight.

Jeremy Hunka, spokesperson for the Union Gospel Mission, says for people sleeping in tents in Oppenheimer Park, the cold can be life-threatening.

"We have seen people die in Vancouver using things to heat their tents," said Hunka on CBC's The Early Edition Thursday morning. "You know that could just go up in flames and someone will suffer a really horrible demise."

Hunka said many people living outside begin to get sick when the weather gets cold and waterproof boots and jackets, as well as dry bedding, can make a massive difference.

"The average life expectancy of someone who is homeless is less than half of the rest of us who are housed, and part of it is to do with their susceptibility to illness and sickness during the cold," he said. 

David Horemans/CBC

The Union Gospel Mission has a mobile unit that travels to areas where homeless people reside. It's stocked with essentials like meals and donated clothing and sleeping bags.

Hunka said on Wednesday night, a quarter of people who visited the unit requested sleeping bags and jackets.

"They're already fighting off illness and mental exhaustion and trauma or grief that they're going through, and then all of a sudden this hits," said Hunka. "It's just horrible."

Clear skies and colder-than-average temperatures are expected to remain until Friday, when clouds roll in and temperatures rise, especially overnight.

Hunka said people can bring donated items to the mission at 601 East Hastings St.

The City of Vancouver activates warming centres for the homeless when the temperature reaches -5 C or below.

Click here for a list of shelters now open in Metro Vancouver.

To hear the complete interview with Jeremy Hunka and voices from people living in Oppenheimer Park, click on the audio below: