City of Burnaby closes temporary emergency warming centre despite continued snow

The city said the centre is only activated in cases of "extreme" winter weather.

By Simran Singh | January 5, 2022 |5:00 am

UPDATE – Jan 5: The City of Burnaby has decided to reopen the Bonsor temporary emergency warming centre starting on the evening of Jan 5. It will remain open for the remainder of the month. 

The City of Burnaby’s temporary emergency warming centre to help unhoused folks get out of the cold has closed, despite more snow and winter conditions arriving in Metro Vancouver on Tuesday.

The shelter was first opened at Bonsor Recreation Centre on Dec 24, 2021, due to the arctic outflow warning issued for the region that saw temperatures feel as low as -15℃ over the span of several days.

The shelter closed to the public on Jan 3, 2022.

This prompted a response from Burnaby’s Society to End Homelessness on Tuesday afternoon. The organization said in an email that the city-run temporary shelter was closed and it “did not receive notice of their closure.”

The city did put out a closure notice on its own website and social media channels. However, city spokesperson Chris Bryan acknowledged there was a lack of communication by the city to reach out to the Society to End Homelessness about the decision to close the Bonsor shelter on Jan 3.

“We informed the other shelters in the city but unfortunately, did not connect directly with the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby. So, that was unfortunate,” said Bryan. He added that going forward the city will ensure they do keep the society informed.

“They’re a very valuable partner in the community for us. And we look to them to help us spread the word to the people they serve,” he said.

Burnaby’s shelter options include the Progressive Housing Emergency Centre at 2294 Douglas Rd, Norland Place Supportive Housing at 3986 Norland Ave, BC Housing Emergency Response Centre on Sperling Ave—which the city says is a “temporary measure” that will close when an expansion to the Norland facility is complete—as well as the Extreme Weather Response (EWR) organized by the Burnaby Society to End Homelessness (located at Southside Community Church, 7135 Walker Avenue from the 1st to the 15th of the month, and Westminster Bible Chapel, 7540 6th Street from the 16th to end of the month).

Bryan said the temporary shelter at Bonsor was opened by the city due to the brutally cold conditions at the end of December.

“Sometimes, there’s extreme situations and the last week-and-a-half we had extreme weather. So when it comes to that we have a plan to activate and that’s when there’s an extreme weather event and when other shelters … are at capacity. That’s the trigger for us, ” he said.

When the Beacon asked if the temporary shelter would reopen due to Tuesday’s snowfall, Bryan explained that these conditions are “not considered severe or prolonged. There is a couple of days where the temperature was below zero but that’s not the conditions where we open this up,” he said. “We look at it in its totality. We look at … is there a weather warning from Environment Canada and is it severe or prolonged. Those kinds of factors go into the decision-making for that.”

Bryan said that the city was connected daily with the other shelters in Burnaby to keep track of the numbers of people who were coming in to ensure that there were enough spaces available for those who needed a warm place to stay, and added that “no one was being turned away.”

Carol-Ann Flanagan with the Society to End Homelessness told the Beacon that she only came to learn of the closure of the Bonsor site was because “someone had been turned away [on Monday].” She said the individual was not aware that the temporary shelter had closed and contacted the BC 211 hotline to try to figure out why they wouldn’t be able to stay there.

Flanagan added that the society found information about the closure on the city’s website, which she said also adds an accessibility issue for unhoused folks as they may not have a phone or internet access.

“My first reaction was to call outreach workers that I knew and tell them ‘don’t send anybody there, it’s closed,'” she said.

The city did reach out to Flanagan on Tuesday to apologize for the lack of communication and she asked if they would be opening the Bonsor shelter again. “They’re mandated when there’s an [Arctic outflow] but I can look outside and it may not be minus seven or eight but it’s miserable out there,” she said.

Flanagan has been continuously advocating for another warming centre in the city and said she would like to see a more coordinated approach from the city when it comes to helping people find a safe, dry, and warm place to stay during inclement and severe weather conditions.

“We definitely need to see more communication. I think this is a learning process where the city realizes the communication has to be open with service providers,” she said.

“Our biggest outcry to them was we need more communication and we need to be kept in the loop because we’re boots on the ground, we’re with the people who are homeless, who need support.”

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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