The organization that runs Nanaimo’s only daytime warming centre for the unhoused community abruptly suspended all services this week and says it is investigating a “possible misappropriation” of funds.
The Society for Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy said in a statement posted to its website that it has identified a person believed to be responsible, and that the individual is no longer involved in the organization. RCMP have been notified.
“We are deeply saddened by the turn of events which have led to the current suspension of services at SEIA,” the organization said. The situation has led to “financial difficulty” and the closure of offices. Staff were laid off last week.
SEIA, created through the 2019 merger of the Nanaimo Citizens Advocacy and the Nanaimo Women’s Centre, operates the city’s only daytime warming centre to provide respite from the cold for people who are unhoused. The organization also provides tenancy support, legal advocacy, social and educational planning for youth and seniors and a women’s centre. SEIA did not respond to an interview request.
The organization said in its statement that it is desperately seeking donations to get staff and volunteers back to work.
“It’s very bad news for the vulnerable in the community, very bad news,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog.
The warming centre’s closure is the most immediate loss, especially as Nanaimo braces for another potential cold snap, Krog said, but he anticipates longer-term impacts with the loss of vital services for “people who did not have the ability to advocate for themselves.”
SEIA staff and volunteers are still handing out food and clothes outside the office, but people are not allowed to go inside.
Another group has stepped in to fill the gap created by SEIA’s closure. Rise Bridge Project has started operating a pop-up warming tent nearby. The group did not respond to an interview request.
Tanya Hiltz, who provides 150 daily meals to people on the street as president of the Wisteria Community Association, said people were shocked and upset when the warming centre closed. “All they want is somewhere to be during the day,” she said.
Hiltz wants to see the city step in and tap non-profits to help. She said her organization has an indoor space they could open while SEIA is closed, but she wants the city to approach the group, because she fears repercussions if she goes ahead without explicit permission.
“Let’s see the city do something,” she said.
Dale Lindsay, Nanaimo’s general manager of development services, said the city is aware of the unauthorized warming tent and has no immediate plans to shut it down.
Staff have been in discussions with non-profits that are exploring how they can step forward to help while SEIA is closed, he said.