UPDATE: The Vancouver Park Board is reopening the West End Community Centre as a warming centre on Friday night.
The Vancouver Park Board failed to find a consensus on closing all warming stations inside community centres across the city at a special meeting on Thursday night.
Commissioners initially debated a motion that would have closed the stations that allow Vancouver’s homeless population to warm up amid freezing temperatures.
The motion, which was advanced by NPA Commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung, called for the suspension of all warming stations in community centres, buildings and facilities under the jurisdiction of the Park Board.
It added that any future warming centre or shelter program should not be initiated without the approval of the board, and that the board would work with the city to identify alternative means to support the homeless population during cold weather.
The motion came forward following the closure of a warming station at the Creekside Community Centre on Tuesday, after a child found drug paraphernalia inside a washroom.
The city maintained that the closure was planned over the Christmas holiday and wasn’t related to the discovery.
It was Kirby-Yung who ended up withdrawing her own motion, after which Commissioner Stuart MacKinnon submitted a new resolution calling for the Park Board to support the City’s initiative “of using city assets for warming centres as needed, and that where necessary, Park Board assets be used as well.”
But the NPA’s Kirby-Yung, John Coupar and Casey Crawford defeated MacKinnon’s motion in a vote.
Commissioners then voted on the original motion with a 3-3 tie for each of the three resolutions, meaning the motion failed.
Emergency meeting brought forth by safety concerns
Last month, the city announced temporary overnight warming stations for the city’s homeless at select public facilities–including some community centres. Given the city’s shelters were full, the stations were intended to provide warmth for the homeless looking to escape the subzero temperatures.
However, on Tuesday, parents reported finding used syringes inside the Creekside Community Centre where one of the warming stations had been set up. It was shut down this week, though the city insists it had nothing to do with the discovery of the needles.
Now, similar concerns are being raised about the warming station at the West End Community Centre.
“We’re seeing a lot of used needles and hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia inside the centres,” NPA commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung said on Thursday.
Over 22 speakers stood up at Thursday night’s meeting to discuss the safety concerns, and virtually all opposed the idea of shutting down community centre warming stations.
No one from the City was present at the meeting, something commissioner Crawfood called “troubling” during the meeting.
Prior to the meeting, Kirby Yung said it was the city’s decision to open them in community centres and it was straining Park Board staff.
“We’re calling for any future use of community centres to come to the Vancouver Park Board for approval first,” Kirby Yung said.
Dave Pasin, the West End Community Association President, said the city had the right idea but the execution was flawed.
“These things are well intentioned. They throw it open and then they don’t bother to think through the logistics of what needs to be done to make the program worthwhile and successful,” Pasin said.
Vision Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang said the city supplies the volunteers and the money to operate these warming stations. He admits there were problems, but said they can be fixed.
“Instead of saying to us lets look at how we can run the warming centres better, how could we get more people into the warming centres as volunteers as helpers, they just want to force homeless people out and cause a political fight,” Jang said.
Since the warming stations opened, the city says they’ve seen more than 2,000 visits.
Dave, a homeless man, is counted among them.
“These warming centres are vital to keeping people alive. I know it’s keeping me alive right now,” he said.
Four warming stations were open across the city on Thursday night: Britannia Community Centre, Carnegie Community Centre, Evelyn Saller Community Centre and the Quality Inn on Howe Street.
There is no word yet on whether the Park Board will be reopening Creekside, West End and Sunset community centres following the vote.