Fellowship to operate expanded extreme weather shelter

NANAIMO: Additional funding from city allows for relaxed extreme weather criteria

The First Unitarian Fellowship will receive $40,000 from the City of Nanaimo to operate a shelter when the weather gets too cold and wet for people without permanent housing to sleep outdoors.

Earlier this year, the fellowship stated it would not be able to operate the permanent 24-bed shelter between November and March as it did last year because the demand taxed the administrators beyond their capabilities.

Instead, the fellowship has agreed to run what it calls an extreme shelter with relaxed requirements.

An extreme shelter opens at 0 C (or colder) wet or dry outside and at 2 C when it’s wet. Under the new guidelines, the shelter will also open if it is rainy and 5 C or colder.

“We’re still running an extreme weather shelter but our definition of extreme has been eased up a little,” said Arthur Lionel, chairman of the weather task force for the fellowship.

“We’ll be open when things are not quite as cold as what is considered extreme.”

Temperatures will be considered in the morning forecast and that will determine whether the shelter opens that night or not.

Weather events that fall under the extreme parameters will allow the fellowship to bill B.C. Housing for its costs while the nights that fall under the relaxed requirements will be paid for with the $40,000 from the city.

The shelter, at 595 Townsite Rd., will operate again between November and the end of March.

Initially, the fellowship said it would revert back to an extreme weather shelter only, prompting the Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness to open a request for proposals to determine if any other organizations could open a permanent shelter. There were no responses, but John Horn, the city’s social planner, said the agreement is a good compromise.

“This model of being open more allows for more consistency than an extreme shelter,” said Horn. “And the short period of time to open a permanent shelter, it just didn’t seem possible.”

On Oct. 1, Nanaimo city council allocated $196,000 to eight local organizations to address homelessness. Along with the First Unitarian Fellowship, the John Howard Society, Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Volunteer Nanaimo, 7-10 Breakfast Club, People for a Healthy Community, Community Kitchens and the Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness all received funding.

The money was provided by Vancouver Island Health Authority and distributed through the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Paul Glassen, co-chairman of the Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness, said projects by each of the organizations will have a positive impact on homeless individuals.

“We are honoured to contribute in our own small way to ameliorating the distress experienced by those who are without permanent shelter in our community,” he said.

Projects the money will help pay for include the Unitarians’ weather shelter, supportive housing for young Aboriginal mothers, a free breakfast program, emergency dental care for the homeless, general food and housing support and basic cooking and nutritional skills training.