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City funds warming centre for homeless

City allocates funds for daytime warming centre, as COVID-19 leaves homeless and vulnerable fewer places to turn.
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Thunder Bay will provide a daytime warming centre as COVID-19 leaves the vulnerable fewer places to turn.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s municipal government will fund a warming centre in the city’s south end, responding to concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has left the vulnerable with few ways to get out of the cold.

City council approved funding for a daytime warming centre at a meeting on Dec. 21, voting unanimously to allocate $46,000 to staff the centre, and up to $20,000 for operating expenses.

The centre is expected to run through the end of March. It will be operated by a community agency selected by the city, which will have to follow financial reporting requirements.

Drug strategy coordinator Cynthia Olsen said the need for an emergency daytime warming space had been identified as a top priority by a team involving social service groups.

“As the colder weather approached and wave two of the pandemic hit Ontario, it was quickly identified that there was a significant gap in service and necessary resources to ensure individuals experiencing homelessness could take refuge from the elements,” she stated in a memo to councillors.

COVID-19 had limited capacity at shelters, and resulted in the closure of informal warming spaces like libraries, she explained.

“Community partners providing services to local vulnerable populations have indicated that, while overnight shelter is strained, they believe the priority gaps are in daytime warming services, and the ability to respond to winter weather extremes”

Oslen added $46,000 in funding for the initiative will come through unspent Community, Youth & Cultural Fund dollars from 2020.

Coun. Aldo Ruberto declared a conflict on the issue, saying an agency under consideration to operate the program might use space it was renting in a building he owned – though the approval of the initiative would result in no direct financial gain to him, he said, since the organization was already renting that space.

Coun. Mark Bentz, chairing the meeting, reprimanded Ruberto for expressing his support for the warming centre as he declared a conflict.

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