Napanee’s Morningstar Mission’s warming centre will open its doors on Nov. 26 to provide a cozy, dry and safe shelter for anyone who needs a bed and warm meal for the night.
Operating in the back room of the Mission at 58 Water St., the centre will run nightly from 5 p.m. to 10:30 a.m. through April 13.
“The weather kind of turned this weekend so we’ve got a string of minus temperatures for the next three or four days so it’s pretty cold to be on the streets right now,” said Kevin Alkenbrack, executive director of Morningstar, noting the frost that blanketed the ground on Oct. 31. “If we can’t be open all year long, then the goal would be to try and get ourselves open Nov. 1 and maybe someday get to mid to late April. But then as a community we have to decide at what point do we want to have a permanent shelter.”
This year the shelter will be operated completely by paid staff, a contrast to previous years when they enlisted the help of volunteers.
“We’re very grateful for (Lennox and Addington) County, the homelessness prevention dollars is what funds this,” said Alkenbrack. “This is going to allow us for this year to not have to rely on volunteers. Last year we used volunteers to help extend our hours with what we called gap programming. Now we can just keep the warming centre open from 5 p.m. to 10:30 a.m. The goal is to try to not overlap too much with Peer 17 so that people can leave from here and go to Peer 17. That still creates a gap on the weekend when there isn’t really a lot of options.”
Morningstar will continue to operate its Saturday supper programs, which get underway at 3:30 p.m., giving people a chance to get in from the cold a bit earlier than when the warming centre opens. As it stands right now, finding a warm place to go during the day on a Sunday can be a challenge.
“That’s one place we’d like to see some progress with what do people do on the weekend,” said Alkenbrack.
Inside the warming centre are walled off pods with a mattress and pillow, allowing people a roof over their head and a place to store their belongings while they get a night’s rest.
“I have anxiety leaving the tent when I’m not there,” said one man who was at the Mission for their breakfast program. “If anything valuable is there, I pray I don’t lose it.”
Along with providing a place to stay for the night, the warming centre is also a chance to connect people with services that may lead to a more permanent solution.
“Our staff are all trained to know the services that are available, to work with people to make sure they’re registered with the homeless ByName List which gives them eligibility for transitional housing, there are 39 transitional units in Lennox and Addington,” said Alkenbrack.
Napanee’s warming centre first opened for a winter season in 2018, operating from the Napanee Area Community Health Centre. Since then it has moved to a few different locations before settling in the back room of the Mission last winter. After undergoing some major renovations, the centre is much better equipped for its intended purpose.
“We’ve seen an uptick every year,” Alkenbrack said of the number of people who use their service. “I always remind people that rural homelessness looks different than urban homelessness. We don’t see a lot of people downtown, we don’t see a lot of people panhandling. We don’t see tents and tarps out in public. Whereas in Kingston and Belleville we’re seeing more and more of that. Usually our homeless ByNames List runs anywhere from 60 to 80 people. It’s just a matter of encouraging our homeless friends to come off the couch, come in to the warming centre and try to get people connected to services. There’s lots of reasons why people don’t want to do that or aren’t able to do that. We’re extending our hours and having trained staff to build relationships with people and build that trust factor that’s hard to come by for people who are experiencing homelessness.”
Members of the community looking to support the centre can always drop off food, warm clothing or monetary donations.
“We always need winter apparel, all winter long. We’ll be outfitting people all winter long,” said Alkenbrack.