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'Nobody is told to go away': shelter will be found during extreme weather alert

Even if Newmarket's shelters are at capacity, overflow beds will be found in the region; and here's how you can help if you see someone out in the cold
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On any given night, Newmarket’s emergency overnight shelter programs may be full, but no one who is homeless will be turned away during extreme cold alerts such as the one issued today by the national weather agency.

Bitingly cold wind chills of near -30C are expected overnight and into Friday morning, Feb. 14. An extended forecast through the weekend doesn’t show a warming up until Saturday afternoon.

For people who find themselves outdoors for even a short period of time, they could be exposed to two potentially severe cold weather injuries that include frostbite and hypothermia.

Newmarket’s Inn from the Cold, which operates an overnight shelter program seven days a week from November to April, provides 36 beds to men and women. It doesn’t turn anyone away during cold weather alerts, even when full.

“As there is a cold weather alert for tonight, if we reach capacity (36), we send people by taxi to either Blue Door, Belinda’s or Out of the Cold, depending on their space availability,” shelter executive director Ann Watson said. “We were not full last night, but the numbers go up and down. Some nights we are full, some nights we are not.”

Watson said the Inn hosted 26 people on a recent night, but just a few nights ago it was at capacity and they had to turn away five people. 

As the largest emergency housing provider in the region, Blue Door Shelters has overflow beds when there’s extreme cold alerts and more beds are opened up. Blue Door provides emergency housing and supportive services for youth, men, and families at three locations in York Region, including Newmarket. 

But it, like other providers, is almost always at capacity.

“We won’t let anyone spend time on the street, if we didn’t have a bed, we would work with that person to find a bed for them,” Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite said. “We work together with Out of the Cold and Inn from the Cold, and the Region of York, to make sure everyone is safe and warm and supported through the night.”

The Regional Municipality of York issued a statement this afternoon in light of the health risks associated with very cold temperatures and wind chills for those who are outside.

“Hypothermia is a serious health condition that happens when body temperature drops dangerously low, starving your brain of oxygen and affecting your ability to think clearly or move well,” York Region’s medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji said. “Don’t ignore shivering and look for the "UMBLES" (mumbles, stumbles or fumbles) which may indicate hypothermia. If you believe someone is suffering from extreme frostbite or hypothermia, call 911 immediately.”

Frostbite is another cold weather emergency causing injury to body tissue from exposure to extreme cold. It most commonly affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes, and can cause permanent damage. Residents are advised to limit time outdoors and to check on those who may be at risk, Dr. Kurji said.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said that on an extremely cold evening, if someone makes their way to a local shelter and they can’t be housed, the York Region system will find them a place. 

“Nobody is told to go away,” Taylor said in a previous interview with NewmarketToday. “There is some capacity there, and I hope people will make the choice to be safe and go and seek shelter and not try to stay outside. I know that’s a complicated decision for some people and not always straightforward, but I hope people choose safety first.”

“York Region will do what has to be done to get people to shelter,” he said.

Meanwhile, York Paramedics urged residents to help vulnerable people tonight who are outside by calling 911 if the situation is an emergency. Street outreach is also available by calling 416-274-4972 or the Town of Newmarket at 905-895-5193.

“Extreme Cold Weather Alert tonight! Dress warmly in layers and limit exposure,” the region’s paramedic service said in a social media statement.

If you notice a vulnerable person in the community who is sleeping outside in the extreme cold, here’s what you can do:

  • In an emergency, always call 911.
  • Call or text Newmarket’s Loft Crosslinks street outreach van at 416-274-4972, which provides food, clothing, sleeping bags and blankets, needle exchange, and support with mental health and addiction daily from 2 to 9 p.m.
  • Call Ontario’s 2-1-1 helpline to find emergency programs and services in York Region, or visit them online to live chat or email.
  • Call, email, visit online or in person the Regional Municipality of York’s Access York contact centre, which provides information, referrals and application services for York Region programs and services. Its hours are Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 1-877-464-9675, email, visit them here. Access York is located at 17250 Yonge St., 1st Floor, in the York Region Administrative Centre.
  • York Region’s extreme cold weather page on its website offers links to community resources, including temporary emergency shelters, and information about the health problems that can result from prolonged exposure to the cold, such as frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Call the Town of Newmarket’s customer service line at 905-895-5193 so a formal ticket is created and the situation can be investigated. Regular hours are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but after-hours callers can select the non-emergency option for local matters that require immediate attention.

Follow these tips to stay warm and prevent cold-weather injuries:

  • Limit outdoor activities and if you must be outside, dress appropriately in layers; wear hats, neck warmers, gloves, socks and windproof and waterproof clothing
  • Recognize the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and know when to seek medical attention

To prevent frostbite, look for the four P's:

  • Pink – Affected areas will be reddish in colour; this is the first sign of frostbite
  • Pain – Affected areas will become painful
  • Patches – White, waxy feeling patches show up indicating skin is dying
  • Prickliness – The areas will feel numb
  • Should frostbite set in, get out of the cold and slowly warm up affected areas.

There are a number of emergency shelters and services in Newmarket and York Region for youth, men, women, and families.

The complete list can be found here.


Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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