New Regina warm-up station expands hours, does more than just keep people out of cold

Click to play video: 'New Regina warm-up station expands hours, does more than just keep people out of cold' New Regina warm-up station expands hours, does more than just keep people out of cold
WATCH: Some of Regina's most vulnerable have been hardest hit by the pandemic, but a new space in the city's north-central neighbourhood is expanding its hours to serve the community. – Jan 5, 2021

A handful of people walked off the street and out of the cold into Regina’s new warm-up station around noon on Monday, marking the first day of its 24-hour operations.

Awasiw: A Place of Hope is a partnership between All Nations Hope Network (ANHN) and YWCA Regina. It opened Dec. 26, originally operating on overnight hours from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.

The centre, located at 3510 5th Ave., is now open 24-7.

“This is a place for people to sit and to be warm and to eat and to have a good conversation with the people that can help them with whatever their basic needs are,” said Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis, an ANHN employee and Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network CEO.

Read more: Saskatchewan shelters anticipate more demand, but have fewer beds available

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“When people walk through our doors we hope that they are fed mentally emotionally, physically and spiritually.”

Those same people are greeted with a warm welcome and a temperature check.

COVID-19 precautions are in place including contact tracing, masks, hand-sanitizer and physically distanced tables with prepared snacks placed at each chair.

Pandemic restrictions limit the capacity to 30 people at one time, but in the first week of it being open, the centre averaged about 70 drop-ins a night.

Kisikaw-Piyesis expects demand to grow with the expanded hours and lack of drop-in centres in the city.

“Some of the institutions and the agencies and systems that are funded to take care of people in crisis are sending people here in cabs, telling people to come here,” she said.

Pre-packaged snacks are placed at each physically-distanced table in the Regina warm-up centre. Derek Putz / Global News

COVID-19 restrictions shuttered most of Regina’s drop-in centres that were connected to other businesses and organizations, simultaneously limiting who can access shelter programs in the city.

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According to YWCA Regina CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, those in precarious situations or struggling with mental health and addictions are most impacted — either not qualifying for shelters or unable to follow COVID protocols.

“(Awasiw) is really the function of what most of our drop-in centres in the city are used for but, because most of them are closed, this is replacing that,” she said.

“This has also become a space for people who are experiencing addictions and need a safe space to sit where there are other people watching them and making sure that they’re OK.”

Read more: Coronavirus: YWCA Regina shelters and essential services remain fully accessible

Awasiw is more than just a place to get out of the cold or to grab a cup of coffee. It offers care packages, clothing, food, traditional indigenous medicine and smudging.

Workers and volunteers also act as the first point of contact for those struggling with mental health and addictions.

“It has turned into a place where people sit here all night and when we phone to begin looking for services or programs or help for them, we have to wait until the morning,” Kisikaw-Piyesis said.

Coomber-Bendtsen says the pandemic highlights a number of flaws in the shelter system.

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When it comes to the capacity to serve and house vulnerable people, she said “we’re not doing it in the right way.”

Congregating people in open-spaced shelters, while cramming cots next to one another isn’t pandemic-friendly, she said.

“Our system hasn’t been adequate enough to handle something like this.”

But a silver lining in it all is innovation. And it’s innovation that bred Awasiw.

“This pandemic has shown us now more than ever how much [innovation] is needed and that we’re not going to solve anything by doing things the way we’ve always done them,” Coomber-Bendsten said.

Awasiw currently operates with the help of volunteers, donations and city funding.

Coomber-Bendtsen says they’ve applied for both provincial and federal funds to keep it running until at least the end of March.

Kisikaw-Piyesis says donations and volunteers are still needed, especially for the overnight shifts.

Click to play video: 'Regina mayor Sandra Masters looks back on 2020, first couple months on the job' Regina mayor Sandra Masters looks back on 2020, first couple months on the job
Regina mayor Sandra Masters looks back on 2020, first couple months on the job – Dec 30, 2020

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