A new warming centre opened in downtown Dartmouth two weeks ago, marking a new addition of supports for unhoused people in the community.
Grace United Church on King Street opened its warming centre early January, and operates Tuesdays from 5pm to 7pm. At the centre, visitors can find free Wi-Fi, tea and coffee and other refreshments, if they need to get out of inclement weather. A minimum of three volunteers will work each shift.
Mark Hazen, chair of the board at Grace United who led the group organizing the warming centre, said helping the unhoused and being a centre for the community in downtown Dartmouth is part of the mission of the church. Hazen said they checked with the local navigator and the library staff at Alderney Gate about how they could support people and were told there was a need for a warming centre.
“It’s something we had talked about,” Hazen said. “We looked in the past whether we could host people overnight or not and our building isn’t physically set up for it. So, looking around, we said, ‘what can we do?’”
So far, there haven’t been any visitors to the warming centre, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need. Hazen said it’s very clear in downtown Dartmouth there’s an issue with the lack of housing. He said from where he lives near Dartmouth High School he can walk downtown and see tents in areas near King Street.
The warming centre is just one of several initiatives at the church. They support Feeding Others of Dartmouth (F.O.O.D), which operates a food bank at Margaret’s House, and they also offer money, food, and volunteers to the food bank at Stairs Memorial United Church, which is operated by North Dartmouth Outreach Resource Centre.
But Grace United also advocates in support of larger structural supports. Shirley Hazen, who is the chair of the church’s communications committee, said the church supports a universal basic income.
“We’re very concerned about the inequalities, the homelessness, because the churches really are on the frontlines,” said Shirley. “We have people coming to our doors that have a variety of issues.”
As for expanding of the warming centre, Hazen said it’s a wait-and-see approach concerning expansion.
“Probably not this winter, but if know there is more need, then we can set things up,” Hazen said. “It’s part of our mission to be a place for the community.”
Meanwhile, over at Dundas Street, not far from Grace United, 902 Man Up has been operating an overnight shelter in a space provided by Christ Church. That 20-bed shelter opened on Dec. 5 and operates every evening from 9pm to 7am. Denise LaVangie is the operations manager for the shelter and 902 Man Up.
“We were getting 15 to 18, but now that it’s getting colder, it’s full,” LeVangie said.
The shelter will open for longer hours on days when there are storms and bad weather.
This shelter in Dartmouth is only for men, but 902 Man Up operates another shelter on North Park Street in Halifax. That shelter has a section for men and a separate section for women. Each client gets a space in a cubicle that includes a bed and drawer for storage of belongings.
Those beds at the North Park Street shelter are transitional beds meaning the clients may spend months there receiving employment or other supports and until they find other housing. If the North Park Street shelter gets full, the clients are sent to the Dartmouth shelter. There are three staff members who work at the Dartmouth shelter overnight.
“We’ll make sure they’re not out in the cold,” LeVangie said.
LeVangie said the clients at the shelters are a diverse group that includes seniors, international students, people working through addictions, and working professionals who can’t find housing in their price range. Many of the clients access navigation services offered at the library at Alderney Gate.
She said the community has been supportive. Some residents provided gifts bags with mugs, hats, and mittens for clients, while another group made a New Year’s Eve lunch.
LeVangie said they have a housing support person on staff at 902 Man Up but she said the problem is the rents are too high and unaffordable.
“Housing for seniors has a five-year wait list,” LeVangie said. “It’s hard. Because of the rents and everything there are going to be more and more seniors and more and more people homeless, that’s for sure,” LeVangie said.
The Dartmouth shelter is seasonal. LaVangie said times are hard for many people and they don’t want to find anyone frozen outside.
“I think we’re all a cheque away at being in these guys’ position, if things keep going the way they are,” LeVangie said. “These people are human beings and that’s all they’re asking for is to be shown some kindness and respect and just to have a warm place.”
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