People experiencing homelessness in Parksville will be able to access a daytime warming centre.
Parksville council voted unanimously to provide support in principle for the operation of a centre by Risebridge at the Parksville Community Centre on Mills Street. Council met for a special meeting on Dec. 21.
“Council has heard the calls from the community for an emergency warming centre for those experiencing homelessness during these periods of extreme cold weather,” said Mayor Doug O’Brien. “And the city has been exploring solutions.”
O’Brien said Jovan Johnson, Risebridge executive director, shared a proposal for the centre with council on Dec. 19. He added the city received verbal indication that the province will provide funding for an emergency warming centre for 12 hours out of every 24-hour period.
“This funding is in place while certain climate conditions prevail,” O’Brien said.
The funding comes through the new Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness (EMCR), unveiled during Premier David Eby’s cabinet announcement on Dec. 7.
City of Parksville staff have reviewed the zoning and fire inspection report for the proposed location and confirmed compliance, O’Brien said. There will be up to 30 spaces at the centre, with a ratio of one staff to 10 guests, according to a news release by the City of Parksville.
The Risebridge organization operates a similar warming centre facility in Nanaimo, managed by staff and volunteers. A warming centre is a safe, supportive space for people to periodically visit to warm up. The centre is not designed for sleeping, as there are no beds and is not a substitute for an overnight shelter. Meals are not provided, but warm drinks and snacks are available, according to the release.
Coun. Adam Fras asked why Emergency Management Oceanside (EMO) was not involved.
O’Brien said decisions had to be made quickly due to the extreme weather.
Blaine Russell, director of community planning and building, added the city has an emergency management position and they have been in communication with the province.
Fras said he would have preferred if someone from Risebridge had attended the meeting.
“It’d be great to have them available at our meetings to be able to ask some questions directly, because we don’t have any kind of history or relationship with them, to know them,” he said.
Coun. Joel Grenz and Coun. Sean Wood indicated they were able to speak with Risebridge staff and were satisfied the organization would operate the facility well.
Wood said he visited Risebridge in Nanaimo a few weeks ago and met Johnson, and he supports the organization’s work.
“She wants to help people and she’s going to keep people as safe as she can, that’s clients, that is staff and that is the surrounding community,” Wood said.
The life-threatening cold weather prompted the city to move rapidly, O’Brien said, which is why the special meeting was called.
Fras said he is displeased that Parksville is the only community in region asked to host warming centres and shelters.
“We’re doing more than our share,” he said, noting he believes the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) and the Town of Qualicum Beach “should step up to the plate”.
Fras added he would support the warming centre.
O’Brien said he will meet with Teunis Westbroek, Qualicum Beach mayor, and Leonard Krog, Nanaimo mayor, after the emergency situation and work on a longterm solution.
Under the Assistance to Shelter Regulation, extreme weather conditions in the Fraser Region, the Vancouver Coastal Region and the Vancouver Island region are defined based on the forecast from Environment Canada. EMCR-funded warming centres may be established when extreme weather conditions exist, as outlined in the Assistance to Shelter Regulation.
O’Brien said, in the release, that the city is thankful for the temporary funding from the province and will continue to work with the province in an effort to secure further funding.