Organizers of the city’s only full-time cold weather shelter say they were overwhelmed last year and as a result will be operating this winter as an extreme weather shelter only.
The First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo at 595 Townsite Rd. had operated an extreme weather shelter prior to last winter, but an increase in funding provided an opportunity for the fellowship to extend its service and stay open nightly from Nov. 15-March 15, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Last winter, the 24-bed shelter hosted 18 to 25 people nightly, a demand that Arthur Lionel, chairman of the weather shelter task force for the fellowship, said taxed volunteers and the program to their limits, if not beyond.
“There were too many people. When we were open every night we were overwhelmed every night,” said Lionel.
“There are people who would like us to be open every night no matter what the weather but we are not interested in that. We are interested in providing an opportunity for homeless people to get taken care of when the weather is extreme.”
Last year, the program received $48,000 from the Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness because of its status as a cold weather shelter.
An extreme weather shelter, which opens when the temperature falls below freezing or heavy rain accompanies temperatures of 2 C or below, is funded through B.C. Housing.
Gord Fuller, a community activist for social justice and chairman of the 7-10 Club, said he is concerned that reverting back to an extreme weather shelter will create an inconsistency in the service and could even endanger lives.
“In many ways it would have been better if the Unitarian Fellowship, when making the decision to go back to extreme weather only, had decided not to continue providing the service and allow another organization or group take on the running of the shelter,” said Fuller in an address to city council Monday.
The Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness closed a request for proposals process on Aug. 31 for other organizations willing to take on a cold weather shelter.
A sub committee will meet Sept. 20 to discuss those options and others to ensure the city’s homeless have adequate shelter during the winter months.
Bruce Anderson, the city’s manager for planning and design, said money is available for an organization that wishes to take on a cold weather shelter.
Coun. Diane Brennan said that until the committee reports back to council, there is no need for council to intervene in the process.
“Until the sub committee comes and says we’re having difficulty then I am absolutely hesitant to step in and interfere with this,” she said.