Nanaimo citizens without homes will have a daytime respite from cold temperatures starting Nov. 14 now that council has voted unanimously to allocate up to $230,000 for the service.
The city intends to sign an agreement with the Risebridge Society, a social agency, to open its Prideaux Street building as a warming shelter with room for 48 people until March 31, 2024.
Coun. Tyler Brown made the motion to contribute the funding to pay Risebridge to operate the warming shelter seven days a week.
So far, no other warming centres are in place for winter, other than some community organizations offering space. Residents can go into local libraries and use lobbies of Nanaimo recreation facilities to keep warm during the day.
Council also unanimously supported Coun. Paul Manly’s motion to post an additional call for expressions of interest for organizations able to run more warming centres, with potential funding for that service be identified.
About 400 more overnight shelter beds and mats are needed than what is available this winter, city staff told a recent governance and priorities committee meeting.
The committee also learned that there was no provision for a warming shelter during the day.
Council met Wednesday to fill the warming shelter gap, recognizing that more space will be needed. Estimates vary on the number of unhoused people in Nanaimo, with the point-in-time survey tallying 512. Workers on the street estimate numbers to be closer to 800, said Coun. Erin Hemmens.
She called the city’s effort a “drop in the bucket” but said it had to be done.
Funding to assist people without homes is inadequate and inequitable, she said.
Of the 512 people counted in the point-in-time survey, 78.4 per cent of those don’t have anywhere to go at night. “Whereas in Vancouver,where they have 5,000 people, only 30 per of their population doesn’t have anywhere to go at night,” Hemmens said.
Nanaimo needs to reiterate to the province that is “absolutely desperate for shelter beds,” she said.
Mayor Leonard Krog said he has “incredible resentment” that council has to consider spending money on something he said is clearly a provincial — and possibly a federal — responsibility.
Money for the warming shelter will come from a municipal fund that has $400,000 in it because a project came in under budget.
Although the province will provide funding for overnight shelters when temperatures drop to a certain threshold, there has been no indication that it will fund daytime shelters, said Dale Lindsay, Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer.
“Historically, it has been that the province is responsible for funding of overnight shelters and emergency shelters,” Lindsay said. “And then if there are warming spaces, they are generally funded by local governments or grants.”
The city received a grant last year to help cover daytime warming costs.
Council also backed another motion by Brown to send Premier David Eby a letter outlining ongoing and severe health needs of the unsheltered population in Nanaimo and pointing out the need for provincial funding.