West End homeless warming centre to reopen tonight

Jan 14 2017, 7:14 am

The West End temporary warming centre is to be reopened, just days after it was closed amid safety concerns, the Vancouver Park Board has announced.

The centre, one of three set up in community centres around the city during the recent cold snap, was closed on Wednesday night after residents complained.

However, on Friday, a Park Board release said the centre would reopen, on the request of Community Services, in consultation with the West End Community Centre Association.

“I am pleased staff have decided to reopen the West End on another night of below zero temperatures in Vancouver,” said Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe.

According to the release, Community Services will be supervising the West End warming centre program, supported by Park Rangers and security staff.

Warming centres get thousands of visits

The warming centres, originally set up in Britannia, Creekside and West End community centres; are different to shelters, allowing visitors to come and go without registering.

While the centres are mostly used as a space to simply warm up in a chair and enjoy a hot cocoa, homeless people are also welcome to turn up with their bedroll and spend the night.

Since the warming centres opened on December 17, they have been visited thousands of times by people in need, as temperatures plummeted below zero in the city.

However, as a result of complaints about drug use, the West End centre was one of two warming centres shut down this week and moved to other locations.

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The West End warming centre was closed amid safety concerns, while Creekside closed after an incident involving a child and a hypodermic needle.

Creekside was replaced by a new warming centre at Carnegie community centre. The West End warming centre was replaced by the Evelyn Saller Centre, the former Quality Inn.

However, the West End warming centre will be reopening on Friday night at 10 pm, while Britannia, Carnegie, Evelyn Saller Centre, and the former Quality Inn all remain open too.

Warming centres are ‘essential’

The move to reopen the West End warming centre comes only one day after a motion to close all warming centres was defeated at a special meeting of the Park Board on Thursday.

The motion was introduced at a special meeting of the Vancouver Park by Commissioners Sarah Kirby-Yung, John Coupar and Casey Crawford on Thursday.

However, it was defeated in a tie vote after four hours of heated debate, with more than 20 speakers, including Pivot Legal Society lawyer DJ Larkin.

Speaking to Daily Hive earlier, Larkin said advocates were heartened to see the overwhelming community support for the warming centres.

The Pivot Legal Society aims to take a strategic approach to social change, using the law to address the root causes that undermine the quality of life of those most on the margins.

The lawyer said the centres are an important emergency measure to safeguard the lives and safety of people who do not have access to shelter.

“Even as the temperature creeps slightly above 0 degrees it is important to continue providing these resources,” said Larkin. “Because we simply cannot assume that people’s health is not in danger when conditions are wet and close to freezing.”

Larkin said using community centres to provide warming centres was essential, because it allowed them to be opened at short notice, where people already live.

“The ability to provide services close to where people are and in a flexible and welcoming way is essential,” said Larkin.

How to support the warming centres

If you want to support the warming centres, Larkin suggests:

  • Write to the Parks Board and the City of Vancouver to express your support. Ask them to plan ahead to ensure that these centres are available, staffed, and resourced.
  • Get the word out. When warming centres are open, let people know.
  • Write to the province, including the Premier, Minister of Health, Minister of Natural Gas and Housing, and Minister of Finance, to request that they are properly funded.
  • Engage in conversation when people are perpetuating stigma and fear against homeless people. Know the evidence and be willing to engage.
  • Donate time, resources or money to warming centres and local services who are engaging with people in our streets this winter.
  • Meet someone living outside, hear their story and learn from them what it is that they want and need.
Jenni SheppardJenni Sheppard

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