Officials gear up to open seasonal warming centre

  • Oct. 12, 2016 2:59 p.m.

The Safe Harbour Society warming centre will be up and running again as of Nov. 1st, at which time the organization’s day support hours will also lengthen.

The intention of the facility is to provide a safe, warm place for those who are not housed to gather and begin to connect to services, with the end goal of finding housing. Tricia Haggarty-Roberts, director of operations at Safe Harbour, said the organization is also working to gain insight into people’s needs through the intake process and operations of the warming centre.

“I can honestly say the warming centre is one of the hardest programs we’ve ever operated,” she said. “When we first took over this project our focus was on not only the safety component of getting people off the streets and out of the cold, but to learn about those using the warming centre. We wanted to know how many people were coming in, where they were coming from, if they were housed or not – we didn’t want it to just be a drop-in hang out place.”

She recognized of course, there is a social element to the warming centre but the primary objective is to welcome and connect those people coming in to supports that will move them out of homelessness.

“One of our objectives with the warming centre is this – if you are housed, go to your house, this is not for you. That sounds callous but this is not the objective of the warming centre. This is not a social, drop-in space. It’s a warming centre to get people out of the elements and connected to the necessary supports and resources,” Haggarty-Roberts said.

An important element of Safe Harbour agreeing to manage the warming centre was the condition that they would also be able to extend their day support hours. Usually, that program runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but for the duration of the warming centre program (November – April), the day support program hours will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“That was a condition for us to step in and take over the warming centre. We were not going to do a drop-in centre by itself – we would only do the warming centre if we could also extend our day support,” Haggarty-Roberts explained. “We have an amazing staff who understand the population and community who use our services, and our staff work with these people all year long and now we are able to provide a little extra support. That means less of a turnover of people out and about on the streets.”

She stressed the day support is a major tool for keeping people healthy and safe.

“Our mission is to welcome and connect. We provide spaces that welcome people in, no matter what, and connect them to services they need. We know a lot of people are pushed away or turned away from other places and we are here for those people. Not only are we here for them, but we are here for the greater community to connect to,” she said.

“This warming centre is a space we can provide for people to come in and let their guard down a little. We want to be able to help people by learning what they need and then translating those into programs and assistance in the future.”

Haggarty-Roberts said there are some challenges with the program, but the Safe Harbour team is ready, willing and more than capable of handling whatever challenges may arise.

“We are in the business of ending homelessness. There is always going to be a need for shelters and for warming centres, but we want to be smart about how we operate and get as much information as we can for future planning,” she said.

kmendonsa@reddeerexpress.com

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