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Demand for night shelters grows with cold weather

In Vidzeme, the cold is severe at night, reaching as low as -25 C. During this time, people without a permanent residence, or those unable to find accommodation, need a roof over their heads and warm food. In night shelters, the number of customers has doubled, Latvian Television reported January 7.

For Ilmārs, this is the first year he visits a night shelter. He has previously worked in Ireland and Germany, but for the last few years in Latvia. For personal reasons, the man is now forced to come to the shelter in Valmiera. The Smiltene-born gentleman admitted that other acquaintances who had nowhere to stay had also been advised to come to the shelter.

“There are a lot of people like that, but there are some people who cannot come at night because they use alcohol most of the time, and then no way [they can come] in the evening...” Ilmārs said.

When the outdoor thermometer bar is below -10 C, during the day, the night shelter is available to customers around the clock. Ilmārs will start working soon, so he hopes to stay in the shelter only in the evenings and nights until he finds a new place to live.

Another customer of the shelter, Jānis, who is a regular, said there was a noticeable influx of people as the harsh frost began.

The Valmiera night shelter and sobering-up center observed that the number of customers has doubled, but its manager, Mārcis Āķis, said that it's not only people without a residence that visit the shelter. It has happened that people who have missed the last bus and couldn't get home come to the shelter.

Besides warm and dry rooms, everyone is also offered food.

"Customers have access to tea, coffee, a warm dinner. If customers stay for 24 hours then they are also due breakfast and lunch. They also have access to laundry, and a shower," Āķis said.

Elsewhere in Latvia, the number of customers is also increasing due to the cold. For example, Andis Sukurs, head of Ventspils division of the Latvian Samaritans Association, conceded that the cold will encourage people living in non-legal temporary accommodation to use night shelter services.

Shelters also call on the public to not leave someone lying in the snow or sleeping on a bench but to call the emergency services – in this weather it might save a life. 

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