A cold snap has hit the Prairies with the mercury dipping below -40 C with the wind chill.
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During this freezing weather, Prince Albert residents are being urged to stay at home if at all possible.
“Simply if you are out and going to enjoy some festivities or starting off the New Year by going somewhere, we want to remind folks to always be prepared,” director of public affairs for Parkland Ambulance Lyle Karasiuk said. “That means if you are headed out to visit or travel you need to think of the usual things that you need to have in your car every winter -- that’s some extra blankets, your shovel, tow chain, extra winter clothing.”
He explained often people get into a vehicle to head off to Saskatoon or somewhere within a hour-and-a-half radius and think they will be fine because it is not a long drive. Since they are unprepared, if something unexpectedly happens, they do not know where to turn.
“If it is on a busy highway like Highway 11 to Saskatoon someone is likely to stop but maybe you are on a secondary road or a grid road and these things can happen and now you are stuck,” Karasiuk said. “We want to make sure you have those simple precautions when you are out driving
“First of all if you don’t have to be outdoors on a day like today, stay at home,” he added. “Grab a good book, turn the TV on or find a good movie to watch and simply stay indoors.”
When the temperature drops, people are more likely to get frostbite on exposed skin or, if they are not dressed properly for the weather, they could develop hypothermia.
“You need to make sure you are dressed for the weather,” Karasiuk said. “Even if you are waiting for a bus on a day like today or catching a cab or going a short distance to a friends -- dress properly.”
He said to dress in layers, with a wind-proof, waterproof outer layer, an insulating layer, such as a wool sweater and a inner layer of cotton of something to draw the perspiration and keep you dry.
In addition to the layers, it is a good idea to wear long underwear, mittens, face protection a toque and good footwear.
“Not only good footwear to keep your feet warm but good footwear so you don’t slip and fall and certainly not requiring the assistance of our paramedics,” Karasiuk said.
Although the majority of people in the city have a warm place to stay, Karasiuk said there are option for those who may not have a place in the city.
“All of the emergency services and in fact his worship Mayor (Greg) Dionne have been encouraging folks all along this winter that if you see somebody out there who is looking lost, maybe you think is intoxicated or simply shouldn’t be out there because it is dreadfully cold, call emergency services,” Karasiuk said. “Let the police get there, if it is a medical problem, let the paramedics deal with it but certainly get some help for them.”
Prince Albert YWCA CEO Donna Brooks said they have two shelters in the city for those who need help. There is Our House, located on 15th Street by the Fire Hall, for those 18 and over and the Central Avenue location for women, children and youth.
“If they have children, right now the Central Avenue location is full because we had a fire (Monday) so we have 10 beds that we can’t use,” Brooks said. “If they have children they need to call Mobile Crisis (306-764-1011) or the city police so they can find them a place.”
Although the Central Avenue location is full, Brooks said they will not turn people away.
“If they come to one of our shelters, any of our shelters first of all we make sure that they are safe and warm,” Brooks said. “If we have a bed, we ensure they get in the bed.”
If they do not have a bed, the YWCA will call Mobile Crisis to help find a solution.
Our House still has beds available, Brooks said, and has different types available depending on the situation.
The main floor houses the crisis shelter, which is open 24 hours a day, Brooks explained.
“It is anywhere from one night to three months,” Brooks said. “If they are staying there, they are provided with the necessitates, like food, hygiene and (other necessities) to help them address issues to find a place.”
There is also a cold weather shelter located in the basement, she said.
“Thankfully they opened up some extra warm shelter beds this winter but we do have the ability to get people somewhere through the social network of our city to get them warm,” Karasiuk said.
The cold weather shelter is an overnight cot program open to anyone 18 years or older, Brooks said. Those using this program have to be out by 8 a.m. the next morning.
“Our second floor we have eight transitional beds so that is even longer term -- it is up to a year where people can stay as they look for housing and get on their feet,” Brooks said. “There are lots of options and there is no reason for anyone to stay out in the cold.”
Brooks also recommends that if anyone sees someone on the street who looks like they may need help to call the emergency services.
“If they are in the cold and in danger of freezing to death, if it is an emergency, call emergency services so they can get the help right away,” Brooks said. “If it is not an emergency and they are capable of helping themselves or getting to one of our locations, they can do that. They can come to one of our locations and we can help them out.”
She said sometimes it might appear that someone is intoxicated, but that is not always the case.
“If anybody sees anybody that looks like they are in danger of freezing -- maybe they are sitting in a snow bank or maybe they see someone staggering down the street or if they see someone laying down -- get emergency services to go check on that person because someone can freeze very quickly,” Brooks said. “Just because someone is laying down in a snow bank, it doesn’t mean they are drunk. They could have fallen or had a seizure -- there are a number of reasons. It is very important to get them out of the elements.”
Karasiuk said not only is it important to look out for those who are homeless, but also make sure your neighbours are doing well.
“On a day when it is cold like today and they can’t get out for groceries, maybe things are running a bit low or for some reason their heating equipment might fail and they are looking for some assistance, you might be that important person to help them out,” Karasiuk said. “Do yourself a favour and check on our neighbours. It would be nice to start the new year out with a hello and a visit but it also gives them some assurance if something is wrong, as we saw in Toronto with the ice storm with thousands of people without power, it is nice to check in and help out.”