The Warm Welcome shelter program in Estevan saw its numbers increase significantly across the board in the 2013-14 season.
Overall, there were 472 stays at the shelters – located at St. Paul's United Church and the Estevan Salvation Army – from December 1 to March 31. The number of users was up 43 per cent from the 2012-13 season, and they averaged about four users a night.
The most tenants they had for one night was seven, and there were six on numerous occasions.
“As the program becomes more known in the community, more accepted and more supported, I think next year, when the program opens up again, there'll be more people coming to the shelter,” said Estevan Salvation Army Lieutenant Brian Bobolo.
“I think every year you'll see it progressing and growing, and this is very typical of shelters of this nature across Canada.”
Thirty-one different people spent at least one night at the shelter, he said. Twenty-nine of them were males.
"It's not unusual for programs like this to be predominantly male, so that's par for the course," said Bobolo.
Bobolo cited several reasons for the increase in user numbers this season. One was the cold weather that blanketed the southeast for most of the past four months. Also, more people are aware of Warm Welcome, and that translated to more potential users being referred to the shelter.
“People understand what it's about,” said Bobolo. “They trust the program. They trust the people and the organizations that operate it. They're willing to invest in it. They're willing to refer people to it.
“And they're willing to come to it as guests, when they're in the most need, rather than try to stay out in their cars or their trucks in the winter time.”
Numbers didn't decline in March, either, when temperatures were slightly warmer. Bobolo said they still had about five users a night.
The number of hours worked by volunteers at the shelter was up 78 per cent to 3,600 hours. Bobolo said they needed more volunteers this year due to the increased demand for the shelter, and they usually had four or five workers each night.
“The program would have really struggled without our volunteers,” said Bobolo. “They came forward. We were able to cover all of our nights adequately throughout the year.”
Bobolo said that Warm Welcome provided more than $38,000 in shelter during the past four months, and Bobolo said that was up 136 per cent from the first year. And they provided about $4,700 worth of food to their guests.
“I think this is really a success story,” said Bobolo. “The numbers really show it. It's very indicative of a community coming together to support their own.”
Not only does Warm Welcome want to provide shelter for people during the cold winter months, they want to create a sense of community among users, volunteers and supporters. Bobolo believes they succeeded with that mission.
The shelter was open nightly this season. It was at the Salvation Army from Sunday to Tuesday nights, and at St. Paul's United Church from Wednesdays to Saturdays. Bobolo said that the two-shelter system worked out well.
“Both church communities have really rallied around this program,” said Bobolo.
Warm Welcome is here to stay, he said, and he expects that the shelter will continue to grow, and have a greater impact, as more and more people come on board to support the program.