Monday’s frigid temperature served as the perfect reminder of Greater Napanee’s need for a warming centre for those with no shelter.
And so as the mercury dipped into double digit negatives, volunteers inside the Napanee Area Community Health Centre officially opened the doors for the first night of a community warming centre, which will now run 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each night through March.
The idea for a warming centre was born following a homelessness symposium hosted at the Strathcona Paper Centre in October. From there Lennox and Addington County staff members worked with Morningstar Mission to developed a warming centre, first naming the County Memorial Building as the location before settling on the NACHC. The official launch date was pushed back about a month as they worked out the final details before opening earlier this week.
“It’s just to give people an option to come in and get warm if they have nowhere to go,” said Kevin Alkenbrack, executive director of Morningstar Mission. “If they happen to fall asleep, so be it.”
A trained staff member and two volunteers will be on site each night and will offer a mat and some light refreshment to anyone who walks through the door.
“Currently on our volunteer list we have 103 names,” said Alkenbrack, noting that members from Roblin Wesleyan Church and Evangel Temple stepped forward to help get the centre open. “We suspect to be able to go over the night through to the end of March, we’ll probably need double that.”
Alkenbrack says it’s tough to gauge how many people will use the centre right now, but he expects the number will steadily increase as the word spreads through social services and the OPP. Prior to opening the centre Alkenbrack says a police officer who encountered a homeless person on a cold winter’s night had nowhere to send them.
“There are people who are living in compromising situations and have nowhere to go so they stay,” said Alkenbrack. “This may give options to people so they can leave a dangerous situation where they have no choice because it’s going to be cold so they have to stay there.”
Alkenbrack says currently there’s three people living within Greater Napanee that he’s aware of who live on the street.
A warming centre such as what is now offered in Napanee is rare not only for a small community, but even some of the larger ones as well.
“What is unique about what we’re offering is there will be two kind and caring volunteers and a trained staff person every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” added Alkenbrack.
Long considered an “invisible”issue in Lennox and Addington, local homelessness began to push its way to the forefront late last year.
“I think it became dinner time conversation in just about every household in Napanee,” said Alkenbrack. “No one can deny there wasn’t a homelessness issue. I think that more than anything fuelled responses from volunteers.”
The centre will operate through the winter months but is still considered a temporary fix.
“This is the beginning point of our plan which is to move forward really solving problems for our clients which is getting to a point where there’s affordable housing,” said Alkenbrack. “Answering that question of how a person on a fixed income can afford a home in Napanee. Right now we are helping people one night at a time. If we really wanted to have an impact on our clients’ lives then we would open up opportunities for them to afford a home on their own.”
The NACHC is located at 26 Dundas Street W in Napanee. Volunteers interested in assisting with the warming centre can contact the mission at 613-354-6355.