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City opens warming centre

Daytime warming centre will help most vulnerable get out of the cold, operating until at least end of March.
A city-supported daytime warming centre opened Friday to help the most vulnerable get out of the cold.

THUNDER BAY – A daytime warming centre meant to help Thunder Bay’s most vulnerable shelter from winter weather launched today in the city’s South End.

City council approved up to $66,000 for a warming centre in December, as the body heard warnings that the COVID-19 pandemic would strain already limited resources at shelters and other aid organizations.

On Friday, the city announced it had chosen mental health and addictions non-profit People Advocating for Change Through Empowerment (PACE) to run the centre at 510-512 Victoria Avenue East.

The warming centre will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week until at least the end of March. With just over 2,000 square feet, it can accommodate up to 10 people at a time, in addition to staff.

"It's basically a place for people that are homeless to get in out of the cold, have a nice, warm drink and a snack, watch the news, and warm up a little bit before they have to go out into the cold," said Georgina McKinnon, PACE's executive director.

The group will generally limit visits to half an hour, she said, though she added they'd be flexible based on people's needs.

"The homeless population is pretty large, and we want to accommodate as many people as we can," she said. 

The half hour period was also supported by advice from the public health unit to limit the amount of time people spend in an enclosed space, she added.

Five or six people had already stopped by Friday, she said, despite temperatures above freezing. She expected much more demand for the service as temperatures drop.

The up to $66,000 in funding from the city includes $46,000 for wages, and up to $20,000 for operating expenses. Its agreement with PACE includes mandatory financial reporting requirements.

The need for an emergency daytime warming space was identified as a top priority by a team involving frontline social agencies, said Cynthia Olsen, the city's drug strategy coordinator.

The overnight shelter system was also strained, according to those groups, but the greatest need was for daytime warming, after the pandemic led to the closure of informal warming spaces like stores and libraries.

Those groups have also collaborated to offer overflow and isolation spaces at local hotels, which are staffed 24/7, Olsen said.

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