Pop-up warming centre approved for trial run on Fourth Avenue

Port Alberni, BC

A pop-up warming site has been set up on Fourth Avenue next to the Friendship Centre to serve the community’s homeless population.

Lisa George and a group of advocates were given approval from the City of Port Alberni to set up tents on a gravel lot on a trial basis. Three 10 X 10 tents will be erected from 6 p.m. to midnight this Friday, Saturday and an unannounced day next week to provide those in need a place to warm up by a propane fire and grab some food.

“We have been granted a trial run, so it’s been decided that we can do three days. We’re going to do [Friday, Dec. 11] and [Saturday, Dec. 12] but we really want to do a day during the week to see what the difference is between a weekday and a weekend,” said organizer Lisa George. “Especially because we want a weekday where the Friendship Centre is coming in the next day to work and [staff] can see that [the lot] is left clean.”

Because the warming centre will be set up for 6 p.m. and taken down by midnight, it won’t be in operation during the operating hours of the Friendship Centre’s child care centre next door.

The Friendship Centre executive director was unavailable for comment on Friday.

George said after the three-day trial run, volunteers will debrief with the city on how operations went and from there future plans for the warming centre will be arranged.

“Ideally we’d like it to be seven days a week for the duration of the winter,” George said, noting that securing volunteers to work at the site is a challenge. “We intend to take names and contact information from anyone who wants to volunteer and then see how much man power we have moving forward.”

George said her and the other volunteers encourage anyone to come by the site and ask questions or inquire about volunteering, or to just show their support.

“We need two volunteers all the time, no one can be there by themselves,” George said. “We’re going to need folks to help with the set up and take down because [the tents] have to go up and down everyday.”

George said COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place during the hours of operation. There can only be 10 people under the three tents at one time, everyone must wear masks and any food being distributed will be individually packaged.

“That was a big thing with the city making sure we were COVID safe,” George said.

Manager of community safety with the City of Port Alberni, Gaylene Thorogood, said COVID precautions were the main safety concern from the city about the pop-up warming centre.

“[Organizers] have assured us that they’re cleaning and masking up, they’ll have their PPE, they’re going to sanitize anything that’s high touch areas and they’re going to be giving out packaged meals,” Thorogood said.

Thorogood added the volunteers have assured the city any garbage or mess will be cleaned up before they leave the site.

“We’re wishing them success with this,” she said.

After the three-day trial run, the city will debrief with the volunteers and see if something on a more permanent, or semi-permanent basis can be arranged for the warming centre.

“They’re going to continue with the tents, not a permanent structure, so say if this site becomes unsuitable for whatever reason we would definitely look at putting them at a different place on city property,” Thorogood said.

The pop-up warming centre will serve as a place for vulnerable individuals to go after the Bread of Life Society’s recently opened warming centre closes for the day. The Bread of Life’s warming Centre opened on Dec. 4 with hours of operation occurring on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Colin Minions with the Bread of Life said the warming centre will be expanding to five days a week (with the same hours) next week.

“We were looking for funding so we actually received a grant from the United Way, so that’s allowed us to expand to five days a week,” Minions said. “We’re looking at adding days rather than hours. We’re actually going to explore opening on weekends as well but not this weekend.”

Minions said since opening, about 10 to 15 people have utilized the warming centre each day. He said that since daytime temperatures haven’t been extremely low, the warming centre has been pretty quiet so far.

Minions said having a pop-up warming centre during the evening will be a great addition for the community.

Mariah Charleson, vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said having a pop-up warming centre on Fourth Avenue is a good start in helping the community’s most vulnerable people. Charleson has been in contact with George and other organizers for weeks about the warming centre and said she’s fully supportive of the endeavour.

“We’ve heard from the beginning of this pandemic Dr. Bonnie Henry go live and she always said at the beginning we need to protect our most vulnerable people,” Charleson said. “We know there’s substantial gaps. Why are vulnerable people continuing to fall through the cracks? From where I currently stand, I am in support because these people are in really dire need right now.”

Charleson said the NTC helps with homelessness outreach and support through their Quu’asa program and Teechuktl mental health supports.

“There’s a good partnership between the Quu’asa team and the Port Alberni RCMP. The [RCMP] have an Indigenous Navigator Program, so they have a list of clients they go over on a regular basis with our Quu’asa team,” Charleson said of the many homeless people in Port Alberni. “It’s really our outreach workers from Quu’asa as well as our Teechuktl team that work directly with our vulnerable populations.”

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