Isabel Poulin | Dreamstime.com

City of Courtenay donates space for warming centre

The City of Courtenay has entered into an agreement with the Comox Valley Transition Society to operate a seasonal warming centre at 685 Cliffe Ave. The Connect Warming Centre will be open from Monday, Jan. 13 until March 31.

The CVTS is a member agency of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, which had appealed to Courtenay council to find a City-owned building to pilot a warming centre during the cold-weather months. The idea is to provide a space for vulnerable individuals during the day, and to relieve pressure from informal warming spaces such as the library and Lewis Centre.

“The coalition is grateful that our homeless community members now have a safe, warm place to go during the day during these cold, wet winter months,” said co-ordinator Andrea Cupelli, noting the centre will improve the overall health of the downtown core. “During the winter season, our homeless population has a hard time staying dry and warm, which can be a substantial risk to their lives or health. Having a space to go during the day also decreases loitering, criminal activity and other risky behaviours.”

The coalition and CVTS will operate the centre. The City will provide heat, electricity and building maintenance — worth about $3,000 a month, were the property to be rented.

Along with providing an escape from the cold, the centre will provide outreach workers to help people access housing and living supports, and with tasks such as filling out forms. There will be two staff members onsite at all times.

“We look forward to the positive impact this will have on many people’s lives and well-being,” Cupelli said.

Coun. Doug Hillian credits the coalition, CVTS and City staff for working through challenges that prevented the centre from opening at an earlier date.

“The City is in a bit of an awkward position in this regard because we’re not primarily providers of social services,” Hillian said at Monday’s meeting. “That’s a responsibility that falls to higher levels of government…I don’t believe we see this as being a permanent answer, but as an interim step that we can take to hopefully bridge the gap until we can look back on the days when people didn’t have a place to get warm during the day.”

“Sometimes it feels like moving mountains, especially when we don’t get a large portion of the tax dollar,” Mayor Bob Wells said. “The Province and the federal government, I think, have had a long history of abdicating their responsibility on this.”

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