A provincial state of emergency followed by an extreme weather alert issued by Environment Canada prompted the operation of a temporary warming centre earlier this winter in the Comox Valley.
The CV Emergency Program opened the centre to the public from 8 p.m.-8 a.m. daily from Dec. 26-Jan. 12. It started at the CVRD Civic Room before switching to Salvation Army Cornerstone and then the Salvation Army Church. A total of 370 patrons were provided low-barrier access to services and supports. Businesses donated snacks, refreshments and meals to the service.
Some of the patrons received wages as peer support workers. Others received a stipend to work in the kitchen or for helping with clean-up.
“These extra services certainly fostered good relationships with the facility staff, adjacent businesses and residents as well,” Cari McIntyre, emergency planning co-ordinator, said in a March 8 presentation to the CVRD board. She gives full credit to warming centre manager Nicole Morrison and her team for working the overnight shifts.
Area A director Daniel Arbour commended team members for congregating the day after Christmas to work in the centre.
McIntyre said Morrison and her team “brought that outreach experience” that provided familiarity to visitors.
“They weren’t being greeted by strangers,” she said. “In a lot of ways, they didn’t have to explain what their needs were, or they weren’t shy to speak up if their needs weren’t being met, because they felt safe enough to do so.”
As opposed to an emergency shelter, an extreme weather warming centre is a short-term, low-barrier centre of refuge, ideally in a central location with access to transit. Warming centres are typically activated by local governments when extreme weather hits. They provide snacks and washroom access, and often laundry/dryer services. Unlike shelters, warming centres do not require registration. Visitors are free to come and go.
Operators of the local centre followed the goals of Emergency Management B.C. to ensure the health and safety of residents and responders, and to protect infrastructure.
COVID and the opioid crisis compounded the challenge of sheltering people during the cold snap. Further exacerbating the issue was a BC Centre for Disease Control notice about disruptions to the illicit drug supply chain, which increased the risk for substance toxicity of substances.
“It created a surge in, for lack of a better term, ‘backyard chemists,’” McIntyre said.
The district continues advance planning efforts to prepare for future extreme cold or heat events.