Napanee warming centre saw drastic increase in visitors

The inside of the Morningstar Mission warming centre, which operated from Nov. 23 to April 13. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Ninety-four unique individuals visited Morningstar Mission’s warming centre this winter, which operated from Nov. 26 to April 13.

On the plus side, that’s nearly 100 people who had a warm shelter to go to on a chilly winter’s night who otherwise had nowhere else to go. More concerning however is the fact that number marked a drastic increase from the 40 people who visited the warming shelter the previous year.

Demand was so high that the Mission staff actually had to re-organize the building’s layout to accommodate more guests. What was once used as the storage area for clothing was quickly re-purposed for more sleeping pods.

“We knew there was going to be more (visitors to the warming centre this year) and had discussed some sort of plan but we wanted to see what would happen,” said Natalie Martin, program coordinator for Morningstar. “Then we slept 18 people the first night it was open and we served 25 people on the first night and knew very quickly that we were going to need to figure something out.”

Not every visitor spent the night, some would drop by to get a warm meal and then head back outside. An average night saw 15 people sleep at the centre while another six would stop in for a meal.

This year was the warming centre’s most ambitious to date, with longer hours operating seven nights a week in an effort to bridge the gap between when other services would open to provide continuous relief from the frigid weather. Funding from Lennox and Addington County’s homelessness prevention program along with events like the Coldest Night Of The Year fundraiser allowed the shelter to operate nightly from 5 p.m. to 10:30 a.m.

The over night program now wrapped up, they continue to offer a breakfast program running every day from 8:15 to 10:45 a.m.

“A lot of the regulars of the warming centre are coming back and using that program and there was people picking up extra sleeping bags and tents saying last night was so cold,” said Martin. “It was two degrees and feels like -3 last night. It’s not super cold but it’s still too cold to think that outside is comfortable.”

Guests to the warming centre had the option to connect to other community services that might help them through a difficult time. Martin says over the five months, eight people were able to get housed through various programs.

“The staff did an amazing job at building relationships and helping people feel comfortable in the space and giving them somewhere to be able to trust that it’s going to be there and they can open up a bit so they want to connect to services,” added Martin.

Of the 94 people through the warming centre’s doors, 74 per cent of them were local to Napanee. That dispels one of the bigger myths surrounding the centre, which is that people are coming from across the province to Napanee because of the centre.

Kevin Alkenbrack, executive director of Morningstar Mission, says people often falsely assume bus loads of people are being brought into Napanee to stay at the warming centre.

“That idea of the bus load of homeless-our experience is you could rent a bus. You could tell people they could get on it and go to another community, but who would get on it?,” said Alkenbrack. “This notion that Peterborough or Toronto or wherever, Kingston and Belleville are sending people to us, even if they wanted to do that, who would come? Why would you leave your community that you feel comfortable with?”

An absolute necessity during the coldest months, there is often talk about the idea of running an overnight shelter for a full calendar year. Alkenbrack says that would be just one part of the solution.

“I think the numbers are self evident that we’re probably ready for a year round homeless shelter,” said Alkenbrack. “I think as a community we need to understand that this takes a multi-pronged approach. The idea of a year round shelter is a wonderful idea but it won’t fix the visible homelessness problem.”

Once the weather stars to warm up many people who rely on the shelter during the winter months will go back to living in tents. Alkenbrack says a year round shelter wouldn’t put an end to that.

“People need to realize that part of the reason people keep the tent is because you can not have processions if you’re homeless,” said Alkenbrack. “You can’t carry around your whole life for very long. People want to have a tent for at the very least too keep some extra clothes, to keep possessions that are important to them.”

Addressing the issue of visible homelessness in the community isn’t a simple one solution fix.

Winter now behind them, the Mission will continue to operate a variety of programs including meals, food delivery, providing clothing and their income tax program, to name a few.

Morningstar Mission is located at 58 Water St. To learn more visit

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