By now, most people have turned on the heat in their homes as chilly autumn nights and wet weather has arrived.
If you’re homeless, simply flicking a switch isn’t an option. Simple survival for people without a permanent residence becomes much more complicated as nights become cold and wet.
Fortunately, the City of Nanaimo and the First Unitarian Fellowship were able to reach an agreement that will see the fellowship provide a 24-bed expanded extreme weather shelter.
Normally, an extreme shelter opens only when the temperature hits freezing, or if it hits 2 C and is raining.
With money provided by the Vancouver Island Health Authority and allocated by the regional district, an additional $40,000 was provided to the fellowship to operate the shelter when overnight low temperatures drop to 5 C or lower.
Last year, the fellowship operated the shelter on a permanent basis from November to March, but quickly found the task overwhelming. It stated it wasn’t able to operate a permanent shelter this winter.
Since no organizations answered a request for proposals by the city to operate a full-time shelter this winter, a compromise had to be reached with the fellowship, and by all accounts it is a decent compromise, one that might save a life or two.
But a compromise doesn’t address the long-term need for a permanent cold weather shelter in Nanaimo, a place where those without a roof over their head know they can go consistently in the winter months to seek shelter from a storm or extended cold snap.
What’s more, a permanent shelter could provide an opportunity to offer other services – free breakfasts, emergency dental care and basic cooking and nutritional skills, among others – to those in our society who could greatly benefit from a hand up.