Homeless people are desperate for warmth in Nanaimo after its only warming station abruptly closed its doors and laid off staff members Monday, but an emergency response has already begun to fill the gap.
Darlee Ingram warmed her hands over the flames of candles burning in a downtown Nanaimo building’s doorway Tuesday. It was the young woman’s only warmth on one of the coldest days of the year.
“It does provide me with warmth for the moment,” said Ingram.
“It goes straight to your bones right so it hurts, it physically hurts,” said Christina Frechette, who has been homeless for years on Nanaimo’s streets, and shared a doorway with Ingram on Tuesday.
“Yeah when you’re wet and cold, it’s hard. And there’s nowhere to go,” said Ingram.
That’s been the case since the sudden closure of the warming centre run by the Society of Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy on Monday, after it abruptly laid off its eight employees just weeks ahead of Christmas.
Despite repeated requests from CHEK News, no one from the organization responded to clarify what sparked the closure. It has led laid-off workers, still in shock, to volunteer in the doorway of the centre, handing out clothing and lunches to clients like Kimberly Mitchell.
“Do you need the warming centre?” CHEK News asked Mitchell.
“Yes we do. We’re homeless and cold, we need clothing,” she replied.
Nanaimo outreach worker Tanya Hiltz said it’s a desperate situation.
“They need somewhere to go, I’d love to go put a tent up but I put a tent up in the city and try to help them that way, they’d take it down in two seconds,” said Hiltz, President of Wisteria Community Association.
But that is just what advocacy group Rise Bridge did Tuesday afternoon, erecting a tent on Albert Street just across from SEIA’s closed warming centre, with portable fire pits, warm clothing and hot coffee.
“We’re just answering the call and the emergency need that community has right now. So offering some fire pits, gloves, toques, blankets, tarps,” said Jovan Johnson, acting director of Rise Bridge.
According to organizers of the pop-up warming centre, it will be open every day it needs to be, until SEIA reopens its doors.
“Absolutely, and we’re really hoping for city and bylaw support in being able to erect this just for now. Until of course SEIA can open their doors back up,” said Johnson.