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Shelter offers comfort during cold weather

Fellowship operates cold weather shelter this season.
Reverend Karen Fraser Gitlitz sorts through bedding at the Unitarian Weather Shelter

As cold weather descends on city streets, people needing a warm place to stay can turn to the Unitarian Weather Shelter for comfort.

The 24-bed shelter, operated by the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo, is opening on Nov. 15 and will remain open seven nights a week until it closes March 15. The fellowship has operated the shelter since the winter of 2009.

Previously it was an extreme weather shelter, but that changed last February when members decided to convert it to a cold weather shelter after a neighbourhood consultation process and membership vote.

The shelter is operating thanks to a $48,000 grant from Nanaimo’s Working Group on Homelessness. Organizers are also seeking donations in the hopes of operating the shelter longer.

Rev. Karen Fraser Gitlitz said organizers are committed to ensuring the shelter is safe for volunteers, staff, guests and the neighbourhood.

“That is really important to us,” she said. “We’re trying to put our values into action and it feels good to be able to do something that’s useful and practical and that’s really important.”

The fellowship hired a shelter coordinator and is hiring a volunteer coordinator.

Fraser Gitlitz said with the volume of volunteers needed for its nightly operation, the fellowship needs a dedicated staff person to oversee the process.

Volunteers are an essential part of the shelter and the fellowship is asking anyone who wants to donate their time to contact. Fraser Gitlitz said every volunteer attends an orientation session and they are essential in creating a welcoming atmosphere.

“The volunteers are part of creating a community,” said Fraser Gitlitz. “We are heavily dependent on our volunteers.”

People can work evening shifts from 7 p.m. to 8:30 or 9 p.m. They help with laundry, receiving guests, serving hot snacks and helping guests feel comfortable.

The fellowship is also looking for donations of single sheets and clothing – including coats, sweaters and track pants, especially large sizes – for people to change into when they arrive at the shelter.

“People come and they are soaked through,” Fraser Gitlitz said.

Blankets are also accepted, but be sturdy enough to withstand constant cleaning. Donations can be dropped off at the Volunteer Nanaimo office, at 3-2350 Labieux Rd.

The shelter, at 595 Townsite Rd., will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To volunteer, donate or for more information, please call 250-755-1215 or go to