White Rock council has greenlighted developing a plan for a temporary solution to providing a daytime warming centre for homeless people.
Following a corporate report from recreation and culture director Eric Stepura on temporary warming shelter options at the Jan. 10 meeting, council approved a motion from Coun. Anthony Manning.
Manning’s motion was that – before the next council meeting on Jan. 24 – Mayor Darryl Walker identify, with staff, one or more locations that can be used as a daytime warming centre, and that the city cover costs, including facility rental and qualified staff, while pursuing partnerships with other community organizations and seeking other funding sources.
“This is going to be a less-expensive and more flexible solution to those who are experiencing homelessness,” he said, adding that while the city can’t take sole responsibility for such services, improving weather may mean there is less need.
Manning also moved that this include reconnecting with the City of Surrey to see what it is prepared to contribute.
“They continue to neglect their portion of the peninsula, for providing any kind of service,” he said.
The only negative vote on the motion came from Coun. Erika Johanson, who was adamant that the need was not merely for an extreme weather solution, but for a long-term warming centre throughout the winter months.
“We are going to be experiencing weeks of heavy rain – these people deserve a warm place to dry off. I don’t see why we can’t provide that.”
Walker said he, too, favoured creating a longer-term solution for this year – “something that will get us through the winter and spring…and it may take two facilities, that may be what is required.
“We will look to find, as much as possible, the other organizations that can help facilitate it. (In) the long run there should be something in place that is more permanent by the fall.”
But he emphasized – through the course of extended council debate on the motion – that council should resist being tied to specifics initially, and retain flexibility through the course of discussions in the community.
“We have to get started somewhere,” Walker said. “Debating it’s a great thing, but there’s so many unknowns that I’d prefer we start talking to people and see what kind of answers we can get.”
He said he would begin those Tuesday (Jan. 11) with a visit to Peninsula United Church, which stepped up to provide a temporary warming shelter over the holiday season with experienced staff from the Engaged Community of Canada Society (ECCS), and also volunteers from the church.
One of those volunteers, Cheryl Lightowlers, also gave an impassioned speech to council during the debate.
She noted that the need for a daytime warming centre had not changed since she and Kathy Booth appeared before council almost a year ago to plead for one.
Lightowlers said that, in the interim, volunteers seemed to have exhausted all options, including faith groups and not-for-profit organizations, for locating a facility in either White Rock or South Surrey.
“We have scoured the city – if we can’t count on this town…?” she said.
“I don’t understand how Gibsons can establish a warming centre, Comox Valley can establish a warming centre…I just don’t understand why we can’t do it.”
The pre-Christmas plunge in temperatures had led to community concerns about how homeless people would fare in White Rock and South Surrey, and to a request to White Rock from the Homelessness Association of B.C to set up a daytime warming centre.
A 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. night time extreme weather shelter is already operated by Mount Olive Lutheran Church, with provincial funding and professional staffing from community agency Options.
At that time Walker, in consultation with staff, had determined the city was not in a position to offer a warming centre immediately.
Stepura reiterated the principal reasons for this: that providing services for people experiencing homelessness requires specialized trained workers who – unlike city staff – are experienced in dealing with mental health and addiction issues; and, if space were identified for a centre, such staffing would come with a price tag of some $21,000 per week for up to 30 people and $12,250 per week for up to 10 people.
Stepura noted that while Peninsula United Church is no longer able to provide its facility due to other renters, ECCS has said it would be willing to provide its services to the city at the rate he cited.
Coun. Christopher Trevelyan noted that while current weather forecasts – as Manning suggested – are for increasingly mild weather over the next two weeks “things can change rapidly.”
“We need something in place right away, because if it’s –5 or –10 we can’t be waiting for another meeting,” Trevelyan said.
“If it’s –10 we’ve got to unlock the doors somewhere, that’s all I’m saying. We’ve got to do that this time, period.”
“I suspect we will do that, some way, shape or form,” Walker said.