The City of Port Alberni has entered into an agreement with the Grassroots Homelessness Coalition to provide “pop-up” warming places for the city’s unsheltered population during the cold winter months.
The Grassroots Homelessness Coalition was formed last year and conducted several pilot warming centres in late 2020 and early 2021. The centres provided seating around propane fires, as well as warm drinks, food, naloxone kits and hygiene packages.
Lisa George of the Grassroots Homelessness Coalition told council during an Oct. 12 meeting that the warming centres usually saw around 35 users per night. The coalition is entirely volunteer-based, so warming places were usually only open for a few hours, said George.
Director of corporate services Twyla Slonski says the coalition has been working with city staff to identify ways the city’s unsheltered population can receive food and shelter when other organizations and facilities are closed or at capacity.
“The Grassroots Homelessness Coalition demonstrated their ability to provide temporary warming places successfully,” said Slonski. “Given that success, the parties would like to formalize this service going forward.”
The license to occupy will last until April 15, 2022 and allows the Grassroots Homelessness Coalition to form warming centres at Tidebrook Park (the former Tidebrook Hotel location on Gertrude Street, across from Rogers Creek Park) and several locations on Fourth Avenue.
Warming places will be able to open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning, but volunteers can also open lunch time warming places from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
The warming places must be staffed and monitored at all hours and must be completely dismantled within two hours of the closure.
Another warming centre is available at the Bread of Life on Third Avenue, but this is only open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. George said the coalition is looking to “fill in the gaps” where other organizations aren’t able to provide services.
“On weekends and holidays, when all other services are closed, we’re seeing a lack of service,” said George. “It’s just opening up times and hours—we don’t want to overlap.“
Council agreed on Oct. 12 to enter into an agreement with the coalition.
“I think it’s a great service and I think there’s a need for it,” said Councillor Cindy Solda.
One of the caveats of the agreement is that waste collection must be provided and managed at the warming places. George said she is looking into Porta Potties and other alternatives.
“We’re exploring options,” she said.