Winnipegger with nowhere to stay warm during blast of extreme cold develops frostbite

Winnipegger with nowhere to stay warm during blast of extreme cold develops frostbite

A Winnipeg man who couldn’t escape the extreme cold over the weekend developed severe frostbite on both feet.

Robert, whose last name is not being released by CBC to protect his privacy, said he couldn’t think of any accommodation Friday night that would take him after he used drugs.

He said his meth-fuelled psychosis left him sitting in the inappropriate confines of a porta-potty for hours on end.

His feet hurt, but that wasn’t the only reason Robert, who has been homeless since November, was desperate for a hospital.

“My feet … are already in bad shape from spending so much time walking around, but it wasn’t medical care I was seeking, it was warmth,” Robert said Sunday. In the meantime he was living in the new municipal thermal shelter in the St. Vital district.

On Friday night he walked several kilometers from the Disraeli Bridge area to St Boniface Hospital where his frostbite was being treated.

Discharge from the hospital after 1 night

The doctor, who worked the night shift, thought Robert should remain in the hospital’s care for a few more days as he feared his frostbite would worsen if he was exposed to the elements again, but Robert said that the doctor who came for the day shift had a different assessment.

On Saturday morning Robert took to the streets again.

“With frozen feet that really just need some rest and warmth, there was no safe place for me,” he said.

Robert went to the new warm-up accommodation at 604 St. Mary’s Rd. which sleeps 20 people. It opened after the death of a woman at a bus shelter in December.

The St. Vital refuge only opens as needed when the temperatures are frosty.

The coldest nights are the hardest to find shelter, Robert said.

Robert’s frozen feet have a series of blisters on his toes and some discoloration. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

“If you’re not there before sunset, you can’t count on a bed.”

He doesn’t like it when homeless people are pushed back outside in the morning.

“If I’m out in the cold again, I’ll be even more likely to get back into drug use because at least I won’t fully realize how awful the situation is.”

He has been homeless since November, when he relapsed into methamphetamine use.

Robert would like to see more resources distributed around the city for the homeless.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to concentrate all of our resources” in an area he calls the “Main Street Strip,” Robert said.

“It’s a pressure cooker, and you’re constantly worried that someone might upset you for no apparent reason, or that your stuff might be stolen.”

Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, says Winnipeg needs support for more people affected by homelessness outside of the city core. (Joan Roberts/CBC)

For example, his glasses were stolen from a downtown animal shelter, he said.

Marion Willis of St. Boniface Street Links, who resides at her organization’s St. Vital Animal Shelter, doesn’t have to look far to find other people suffering from frostbite.

“There’s a fellow over there in the corner with his legs and feet bandaged. He’s on crutches,” she said. “We had another guy come to us, his whole hand is just a giant…blood blister.”

It “speaks to the state of homelessness in the city and how unprepared we really are.”

In times of acute cold, the need for warming rooms increases.

“This year marks the first time there’s been a shelter option on this side of the river for people struggling with homelessness,” Willis said, referring to their location east of the Red River.

“I could double the beds at this shelter and we’d be full every night, and that’s just with people this side of the river.”

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