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Burnaby needs a permanent warming centre as winter approaches, says advocate

As winter approaches, Carol-Ann Flanagan of Burnaby’s Society to End Homelessness said she is concerned unhoused people will have limited access to warming centres in the city.

Flanagan explained that currently, there is only a temporary solution in place. She said that although Burnaby has EWR (extreme weather response) centres, these are only opened when temperatures are below freezing or when there are a few “solid days” of rain in a row.

When the EWR centres are activated, folks can access them from the 1st to the 15th of every month at Southside Community Church and from the 16th to the end of the month at Westminster Bible Chapel.

Flanagan worries that with temperatures already dropping, and COVID protocols resulting in less capacity for EWR centres, this will result in more unhoused folks being left out in the cold this fall and winter.

Currently, the EWR at Southside Community Church can only take in 12 people due to COVID and the centre at Westminster Bible Chapel has space for eight to 10 visitors, Flanagan said.

“What this city needs is a proper warming centre that is open seven nights a week, not just in extreme weather.”

Flanagan said that, last February, an EWR centre was set up at Jubilee United Church for folks to access seven nights a week. “It was at capacity every night,” she said.

“But this year, we have nothing and it’s supposed to be a colder winter.”

Mayor Mike Hurley told the Beacon he agrees there need to be more permanent solutions in place.

“The problem with warming centers is you turn people back out in the morning out into the street, and we’re trying to move to a different model of more housing [for] people on a permanent basis so they don’t have to go out into the cold again in the morning,” he said.

According to Hurley, the city is currently working with BC Housing and Progressive Housing to add around 53 more permanent spaces to the shelter on Norland Ave “hopefully by November,” he said. However, Flanagan stated COVID protocols will most likely reduce how many of these permanent spaces become immediately available for use.

Hurley added that this summer’s extreme heat, which is believed to have resulted in hundreds of deaths in BC, highlighted that “we’re not as prepared as we should be for extreme weather.”

He said the city is currently “putting together many plans” around emergency response during extreme weather events.

“Certainly the extreme cold is something that our staff are looking at right now to see how we’re going to manage that,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll have that up in time for November, but as I see these 53 new spots should be a big help.”