Advocate Carol-Ann Flanagan said this weekend's weather makes clear why a permanent warming centre is needed in Burnaby. (Shuttertock)

Storm, extreme rain, add to reasons why Burnaby needs permanent warming centre: advocate

"The best I could do is give some of our patrons a sleeping bag or two, a tarp, occasionally a tent. I actually gave out my last tent." 

By Simran Singh | November 17, 2021 |5:00 am

This week’s torrential downpour and unprecedented weather conditions add to the reasons why the city needs a permanent warming centre, according to one advocate.

Carol-Ann Flanagan with the Society to End Homelessness told Burnaby Beacon that she was receiving many questions since Thursday last week about inclement weather and if Extreme Weather Response (EWR) would be activated in the city. On Sunday, extremely heavy rainfall hit Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and parts of the Southern Interior causing flooding, mudslides, and severe damage in many areas across the province.

“I called the only temporary shelter here in Burnaby, I called the isolation centres, I called New West shelters. Nobody had space for people,” Flanagan told the Beacon.

“So the best I could do is give some of our patrons a sleeping bag or two, a tarp, occasionally a tent. I actually gave out my last tent.”

Burnaby has two EWR centres, and when they are activated, patrons can access them from the 1st to the 15th of every month at Southside Community Church (12 spaces available) and from the 16th to the end of the month at Westminster Bible Chapel (10 spaces available).

According to the EWR criteria, these centres are only opened when temperatures are below freezing, there’s wind chill that reduces the temperature to feel like 2 C, snow has accumulated, there have been three or more days of rainfall that makes it “difficult or impossible for individuals to remain dry”, there is freezing rain or sleet, or severe wind or a wind warning in effect.

During the two days of heavy rain on Sunday and Monday, the EWR centre at Westminster Bible Chapel was not opened.

Flanagan told the Beacon that it’s not up to the Burnaby Society to End Homelessness alone to open the EWR centres. Rather, that decision lies with an activation team. According to Burnaby’s 2020-2021 EWR document, the team “will be available throughout the duration of the identified months of Extreme Weather Response operations to collaborate and determine when there is an identified need to activate an Extreme Weather Response Alert.”

“It was not my call. If it was me, there would be a warming centre open every single night,” she said, adding that she knows that the decision-makers who activate the EWRs “do regret” not doing so during the storm.

The Beacon spoke with Dave Brown of the Lookout Housing and Health Society, who works in collaboration with Pastor Norman Oldham to determine the activation of the EWR centres.

Brown told the Beacon that not opening the EWR in Burnaby is something that “should have happened” in hindsight.

“Sometimes it just gets by you,” he said, adding he takes responsibility for the decision. “It’s not a perfect system,” he said.

He added that the EWR is now open from Nov 16 to 19 at Westminster Bible Chapel due to near-freezing conditions over the next few days.

Flanagan told the Beacon that ultimately, the city needs a permanent warming centre because the facilities do not offer enough space.

There is also a temporary shelter located on Douglas Rd which is not an EWR site. Flanagan said this shelter is “always full” and only has 20 spots open (15 for men and 5 for women) due to current COVID protocols.

“So at the most, even if you take up 15 people there are a lot more homeless people  [in the city] than that. Last week, I have spoken with at least six people about where they are going to be sleeping,” she said.

“I really hope the city finds some kind of space to open a winter EWR, especially after last weekend.”

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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