Laid-off staff at Nanaimo warming station have continued volunteering outside facility

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Elizabeth Vanaert was filled with relief Thursday to find outreach workers in the doorway of the Nanaimo warming centre she regularly visits after the Society for Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy (SEIA) had shut down suddenly on Monday and laid-off staff.

Despite being laid off, the 10 employees have turned up day after day, volunteering, and handing out donations so homeless clients won’t go without.

“That’s even more amazing, like that’s wow,” said Vanaert, a homeless Nanaimo resident. “Crazy what they do for us.”

“There’s a bunch of us that are going to keep this going for as long as we can,” said Aimee Chalifoux, a laid-off Outreach Worker at SEIA.

Chalifoux said an alleged theft by a former employee — the result of the suspension of services and staff being laid off — came as a total shock.

READ MORE: Shutdown of only warming centre in Nanaimo leads to ’emergency response’ by community

“Yeah just sick. I felt dizzy and nauseous. A physical grief reaction, where’s everybody gonna go, what’s everybody gonna do,” said Chalifoux.

According to Charles Nelson who took on the role of Executive Director at SEIA a few months earlier, he said his review of the non-profit’s finances is what revealed the massive loss, which sources tell CHEK News is up to $100,000. Nanaimo RCMP is investigating.

“Yeah we’re low, that’s all I can say is we’re low; that we cannot provide the payroll for staff,” said Nelson.

So SEIA has appealed for donations to help reopen as soon as possible.

“How do we continue to provide services to those who are in need,” said Nelson.

As of Thursday, a pop-up warming station — a tent with no walls — was trying to meet the need downtown but the weather is forecast to turn wet and cold quickly.

“We have rain and snow coming and the temperatures continue to drop and we’re basically working off of one really flimsy shelter here and we need more community support to make this happen,” said Jovan Johnson, Acting Director of Rise Bridge.

Emergency talks were underway Thursday to get SEIA’s warming station re-opened and donations were already coming in.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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