The executive director of the Cape Breton Community Housing Association plans to ensure there will never be a repeat of the circumstances that led to the closure of its homeless shelter during the daytime.

Fred Deveaux said normal hours for the shelter on Margaret Street in Sydney are 6 p.m. to 10 a.m., but when the temperature drops below –15 C or during a snowstorm, those hours are extended.

Deveaux said "it was a perfect storm" during the first weekend of the new year that led to the daytime closing of the shelter during extreme cold.

A storm knocked out the phone line late on the night of Jan. 4, compromising safety procedures.

No emergency connection

In the case of a fire, the alarm system sends an immediate dispatch to a security company, which connects with the fire and police departments, and "a phone line is required to do that," said Deveaux.

With no landline, the shelter is required to have extra staff on site, but no extra staff were available.

"Because we had to double staff for 72 hours straight, which is not a normal occurrence for us, we simply did not have staffing availability," he said.

Since then, Deveaux says, staffing numbers have been re-examined throughout the organization and a new plan has been devised.

"We have a plan in place to move some staff around, over to the shelter, once they are properly trained," he said. 

That will include tapping into the casual staff at group and small options homes.

In a statement, telephone service provider Bell Aliant said there was a "significant amount of repair work required" across the region after last week's storm, but technicians worked "as quickly as possible to restore services for all customers impacted."

Other options

During the cold snap, shelter staff did made sure the five men staying there were wearing warm clothing and were given gift certificates for coffee shops so they could seek other shelter and get a hot lunch and coffee and tea.

Warming stations were also open throughout the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Transportation was an issue, though, as buses do not run on Sunday.

Some homeless people did find food and warmth throughout the week at the United Heritage Church in downtown Sydney.

Deveaux intends to reach out to other organizations to discuss a more organized approach for next time.

"It is something that is on our radar."