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Homeless feeling the effects of Northern Ont.'s freezing weather

'I am desperately praying this person does not lose any toes or his feet. What plays heavily on me is the inability to force them to go to hospital'

NORTH BAY — Despite the best efforts of volunteers and social agencies, homelessness continues to be a problem in North Bay, as some of the affected make the decision not to accept help for various reasons.

North Bay's two Warming Centres had their first night of operations this week as temperatures dropped to minus 15-20 overnight.  People can just stop in to warm up and have a seat and a hot drink then head out, or they can get a cot for an overnight stay. But others won't take advantage of the offer.

See: Both warming centres now open as temps nosedive

Bonnie Zufelt felt that firsthand on Sunday and she says it broke her heart. 

"This young man was taken to emerge last night with severe frostbite on both feet," she wrote in a Facebook post. "I am desperately praying this person does not lose any toes or his feet. What plays heavily on me is the inability to force them to go to the hospital. Both mental health and illicit drugs are responsible for this as is the lack of housing and places for the citizens to get refuge from the cold.

"After sitting with this 28-year old for many hours he was finally taken to the hospital but not willingly. So let's all pray for him and hope he's well. Sadly I don't believe this is the last freezing problem we will have.

"I have got quite attached to this person and I feel powerless to help. We hugged each other, he in pain and I in tears. I hoping that he knows he was loved at that moment."

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Skin becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard and pale. 

WebMD offers these suggestions if you come across someone who has frostbite.

  • Get the person to a warm place and remove any wet clothing.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, the person should not walk on frostbitten toes or feet.
  • Do not rewarm the skin until you can keep it warm. Warming and then re-exposing the frostbitten area to cold air can cause worse damage.
  • Gently warm the area in warm water (not hot) or with wet heat until the skin appears red and warm.
  • If no water is nearby, breathe on the area through cupped hands and hold it next to your body.
  • Do not use direct heat from heating pads, radiator, or fires.
  • Do not rub or massage the skin or break blisters.
  • Loosely apply dry, sterile dressings.
  • Put gauze or clean cotton balls between fingers or toes to keep them separated.

Dennis Chippa is the Executive Director of the Warming Centre at The Gathering place on Cassells Street. He says they're still in need of volunteers to assist through the winter. They also need food donations.

There is also an effort in the city to provide temporary shelters for the homeless.

See: Group getting together to build igloos for the homeless


Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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