The Grassroots Homelessness Coalition (GHC) will once again be providing temporary warming places for Port Alberni’s unsheltered population during the colder months.
Port Alberni city council approved a License to Occupy Agreement for the coalition to set up warming places on two city-owned properties from October to April, filling a gap when other local facilities are either closed or at capacity. The two locations are Tidebrook Park on Gertrude Street and land next to the Port Alberni Friendship Centre on Fourth Avenue. The locations provide warmth from propane fire pits, with hot drinks, food, Naloxone kits and hygiene packages.
Last fall and winter, the GHC and the city conducted a pilot project for the pop-up warming places that proved to be a success.
“As communities continue to face challenges with providing shelter to vulnerable unsheltered populations and in response to events that transpired throughout the COVID pandemic, and where we continue to find ourselves, the Grassroots Homelessness Coalition was formed,” said the City of Port Alberni’s Director of Corporate Services Twyla Slonski. “Members of the coalition have been working with city representatives to identify ways in which the city’s unsheltered population could receive food and shelter when local organizations or facilities are either closed or at capacity and when the weather is unfavorable.”
The License to Occupy Agreement states the warming places can be available from 7 p.m. through to the following morning until 8 a.m., with the caveat that the coalition could set up as early as 6 p.m. It is also required that the warming places be monitored and staffed at all hours of operation. All tents and equipment must be completely dismantled and the property returned to its original state within two hours after the closure. In addition, any garbage or waste must be collected and managed during operating times.
The coalition also asked for the agreement to include the option of providing a lunch service from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays when other service providers aren’t available.
Lisa George from the GHC told city council at a meeting on Oct. 12 that they don’t want to duplicate any services that are already in place.
“On weekends and holidays where all other services are closed, we’re seeing a lack of service,” George said. “That’s what we’re looking to fill the gaps. There was a big lull over Christmas and New Year’s, there wasn’t a lot out there.”
George said during last year’s pilot project, the warming places typically saw around 35 individuals per night.
“If you took that comparison to the next night, we’d still have that 35 but not all 35 are repeat, we’d have new faces,” she said. “Somebody tells somebody else and it goes forward. I figure we’d had 100 people on the street that were served. We’re missing a bunch of folks and we’ve got a lot of new faces out there.”
The coalition is entirely volunteer based, so warming places were usually only open for a few hours.
“Midnight is usually our closure because most of us have daytime jobs that we still have to function at in the morning,” George said.
The coalition is looking for more volunteers to help out, whether it’s serving food, helping set up or take down equipment. They are also in need of donations to purchase two propane fire pits, propane tanks, folding chairs, paper towels, toilet paper, plastic cutlery, masks, gloves and garbage bags.