As the snow began to fall in Halifax on Monday afternoon, staff inside a new warming centre were preparing to welcome the city’s homeless.
As part of the extreme-weather plan, community shelters and Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH) have partnered to create the warming centre on Gottingen Street.
The centre is currently located at the Johanna B. Oosterveld Centre and will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. during extreme weather events.
“Public Health lets us know that it is indeed an extreme weather event: it’s either 15 [degrees] below or colder or 25 centimetres of snow or more,” said Sheri Lecker, the executive director of Adsum for Women and Children.
“Then we put a number of things into place, including the opening of this warming centre at this location.”
Staff say it’s vital to provide safe shelter for those who may not have a place to go.
“Having worked with homeless individuals for a number of years, frostbite is a big one,” said Peter Arsenault, an intensive case manager with MOSH.
“I’ve seen a lot of people that have succumbed to getting frostbite and it’s not a pleasant experience for them and just hypothermia, things like that when it comes to this much snow that’s in the forecast.”
Staff from the local shelters will be on hand and will be providing snacks and hot coffee. They will also provide bus tickets so guests can travel to overnight shelters once the warming centre closes at 8 p.m.
“The idea is just to be inside, make some phone calls if need be,” said Lecker. “If someone is wanting to stay at a shelter, to be able to call around to existing shelters and find out where there might be a bed for someone to go.”
Among the possible overnight accommodations is the Out of the Cold Shelter on Barrington Street, which provides beds on a last resort basis during the winter.
This year, they are focusing on referrals from community groups, rather than the first-come-first-served model they have used in the past.
However, they are planning to be flexible Monday evening because of the forecasted blizzard.
“I think all the shelters kind of relax a lot of our policies so that we can accommodate people who are suffering through the extreme weather,” said Jeff Karabanow, one of the shelter’s coordinators.
“At Out of the Cold Shelter, we’ll try to open up a little bit earlier. We won’t have restrictions on how long people can stay in drop-ins. We’ll try to have warm clothing available, dry clean clothing available, we’ll have lot of food and we’ll try to get people wherever they need to go.”