People living outside in Nanaimo now have two places to escape the elements during the day and access food and warm drinks.
Two warming centres opened in the city Monday, providing indoor space for about 30 people at a time between both locations.
The warming centres are located at 489 Wallace St. and 285 Prideaux St. and operated by the Society for Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy and 7-10 Club, respectively. They are funded by about $110,000 in grants from the United Way and the federal government’s Reaching Home homelessness strategy.
Gordon Fuller, chair of the board of directors for the 7-10 Club, said the warming centres allow people without homes to get out of cold and wet weather during the day.
The 7-10 Club, which provides hot breakfasts to people in need, will offer coffee, snacks, clothing and help connecting with services in the city, Fuller said. The Wallace warming centre will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. seven days a week.
“It will give a person space to come in and stay warm for at least five hours,” he said.
The space was quiet on Monday, but Fuller said he expects it to get busier as word gets out.
The warming space operated by the Society for Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy will provide food, drinks, clothing, toiletries, and a service to dry wet clothing, blankets and sleeping bags. It will be open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Chantaele Roelens, executive director of the society, said the centre will benefit the wider community. “When you help one person, you help the whole community,” she said.
The centres will also help front-line workers connect regularly with marginalized people and identify anyone coming down with COVID-19 symptoms, said Signy Madden, executive director of United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island.
They will be open until March 31, although Madden said they’re hoping to have enough funding to stay open until the end of April.
Funding is earmarked for a third warming centre but a location has not been finalized, she said.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he’s grateful the centres will support the city’s significant homeless population. A count in March 2020 found more than 430 people living outside in the city, and encampments have grown during the pandemic.
“Warming centres are really valued and important to try to provide some relief from the hell people are living in our streets,” Krog said.
But the temporary measures aren’t going to solve the housing crisis, he said.
“It isn’t municipal government’s job to build housing, and the private sector cannot make money building the housing that is needed by a portion of the population,” Krog said. “It is up to the province and the federal government in my view.”
The province is working to build 850 new affordable homes in Nanaimo. The most recent project opened in late December, with 23 studio or bachelor apartments for people with low to moderate incomes.