The temporary warming centre set up for homeless people in Creekside community centre has been closed, after an incident involving a child and a hypodermic needle.
In a release, the Vancouver Park Board did not explain what happened, saying only that GM Malcolm Bromley had spoken to the father and believed the child was not hurt.
The warming centre was being shut down “due to a number of operational challenges,” and the incident, which happened Monday, was under investigation, said the release.
“The staff at Creekside have been working diligently to keep the programming and operations of the centre going, while also providing shelter to our vulnerable populations,” said the release.
“The demands of running both warming centres and shelter for a long period have become increasingly complex for staff.”
The Creekside warming centre will now be replaced by a new warming centre set up at Carnegie community centre, said the release.
2,000 visits made to warming centres
According to the release, homeless people in Vancouver have made 2,000 visits to the City’s three new warming centres as temperatures plummeted below zero recently.
The warming centres, which opened on December 17, 2016 at Britannia, Creekside and West End community centres, offer seating, hot cocoa and a place to sleep.
Operating 24 hours a day, the temporary warming centres are different to shelters, allowing visitors to come and go as they please without registering.
However, since the Creekside centre opened, local residents have grown increasingly concerned over needles discarded by drug users believed to be visiting the warming centre.
Needle disposal in all washrooms
Speaking on Monday, before the incident, Ethel Whitty, Director of Homelessness Services, said discarded needles were a reality “in all our communities” in Vancouver.
Visitors are not allowed to use drugs inside the warming centres, she said, but sometimes it happens in the washroom, for example.
“People have been regularly asked to leave if they are doing that in the centre, but they are still welcome to come back when they are no longer doing that,” said Whitty.
According to the Park Board’s release on Tuesday, staff are reviewing safety protocols in the centres and ensuring there are safe needle disposal containers in all washrooms.
“We will also be improving our transition procedures at community centres acting as warming centres, to ensure occupants depart early to give staff time to prepare the centres for public programming,” said the release.
Warming centres ‘probably saved lives’
While the Park Board said in its release the warming centres were always intended to be temporary, it looks likely the initiative will continue in future.
“To prepare for next year we will review the staffing plan and create a base of auxiliary staff and volunteers to support the warming centres,” said the release.
Speaking on Monday, Vancouver City Manager Sadhu Johnston praised the warming centres, but acknowledged the need to address the “inconvenience” of needles.
“We know it brought a lot of people in from the cold, probably saved lives,” Johnston said. “That comes with an inconvenience and we need to figure out how we share that.”