Warming centre wraps up for the season Friday, reports an increase in visitors

Morningstar Mission, located at 58 Water St. W in Napanee.

Morningstar Mission’s warming centre will welcome its final guests for the season on Friday.

Since opening its doors in mid December, the centre provided over night shelter for 40 people who otherwise had nowhere to go on a winter’s evening. Throughout the course of the last three and a half months there were 480 instances where somebody dropped by for a rest but didn’t spend the night. Another 150 times the centre was used as a place to get a meal, warm up for a bit and do some socializing.

This was the fourth time in the last five years the Mission has operated a warming centre, the first year it was based out of a recently renovated back room inside the Mission.

“We are seeing an increase because all of the clients, with the exception of a few, were housed last year,” Rebecca Brown, program coordinator for the Mission, said of this year’s total numbers. “They were able to get into transitional housing. What we’re seeing is a new influx of clients and we actually have an increase.”

Brown noted each of their clients had unique situations-some were there just about every night while others had connections that allowed them to ‘couch surf’ from time to time, highlighting the many definitions of what it means to be homeless. It’s not always a black and white situation.

Always adapting, the warming centre quickly expanded its hours and programming to address gaps in both the evening and morning to give those in need the opportunity to get out of the elements earlier and to stay a bit longer.

For many of those clients, the warming centre served as a last resort to get in from the cold. Once inside they not only had a safe place for the night, but a chance to learn about programs that could help them to long-term solutions.

“It’s really important to remember that we do a really good job to make it as warm and welcoming as possible,” said Morningstar Mission executive director Kevin Alkenbrack. “We have a mattress and we have some privacy for people. But this isn’t a home. It’s not the same thing as an apartment. We try to make it like a home and we try to be welcoming and encouraging, but at the end of the day we are asking people to come here and make this their home. Our biggest challenge is always encouraging people to come and be a part of things and stay here. Hopefully they can make goals and make plans.”

Unfortunately the mission only had enough funding to sustain itself through the end of March. Now that April has arrived, the centre will cease operations until next winter.

“Unless they are prepared to leave the community, which probably they won’t be, then they will probably do what they did last year,” Alkenbrack said of what clients will do now for shelter. “If they are able to find a couch here and there they will. (If not) they will go to bank machines and roll open the carpets; they will go back into tents. No one is saying homelessness is simple. Every community is dealing with it, of all sizes. There are advantages and disadvantages in Napanee. We’re a small community; we have lots of volunteers, lots of people with compassion. We have lots of services. But we don’t have of programs and we don’t have a lot of affordable housing and we don’t have options for people.”

Alkenbrack says compassion can be one of the biggest keys to dealing with the ever-growing homelessness issue.

“We have a rising street drug addicition, I don’t know how else to say it,” said Alkenbrack. “That just makes everything more complicated and difficult. What I would say to the community we just need more people to react with love and kindness. There are a lot hurting people. That trend is likely to continue. We have to make decisions with dollars, that’s one answer. The other answer is as a community that we choose to respond with love and try to understand trauma, try to understand addiction and mental health and understand the limitation that people face.”

Alkenbrack said it can be mentally and physically draining, but added the many small victories along the way help to keep their staff and many volunteers going.

“It’s not easy work,” said Alkenbrack. “For the people who work for the County at Social Services, those at Interval House, for us, for Salvation Army, Pier 17, AMHS (Adicitions Mental Health Services), Victim Witness, the courts, the police, the fire, the ambulance. It’s exhausting work. We have to be at our best to not have compassion fatigue to really approach person that they have value, they are worth our time.”

Though the warming centre is done for the season, the Mission’s work is far from over. They’ll continue to offer their hot meal program and serve those in need. On the immediate horizon is their annual Easter Dinner, offering a free sit-down dinner on April 8 at 4:30 p.m. at their dining hall. The Mission is located at 58 Water Street W in Napanee.

For more information on their services, or for ways to get involved, visit www.morningstarmission.ca.

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