Unhoused people in Kingston are asking for 24/7 warming centres, as temperatures in southwestern Ontario continue to dip to -30C with the wind chill.
“I’ve never really felt cold like that in a long time,” says Jason Thomas Charbonneau. “It’s not good on the body. It hurts actually.”
Charbanneau is one of the people who have been using the Lionhearts Warming Centre at 218 Concession Street.
The Lionhearts Warming Centre operates from 8 p.m. until midnight, providing warm meals and supplies. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Home Base Housing then takes over from midnight until 8 a.m., offering 19 sleeping pods.
While this can be a great help, the site is not operating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., leaving people without a place to keep warm during the day.
“We had to leave by 8 a.m., and we would go to another shelter, Artillery Park, where we could stay warm from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. when the shelter on Concession re-opened,” says Maxwell William Strange. “And we got down there and it wasn’t open so, all of us were out in the cold with no place to go and no one to contact. None of us have cellphones.”
“This is not something we chose to happen to us, no matter what people think,” says Strange. “Most people don’t choose to be homeless. And once you are, it’s almost impossible to get back out.”
Strange says he believes the daytime closure is due to a shortage of staffing and volunteers that would be necessary to run the facility.
“So if you open it up, you can’t say two days later, ‘well we have to close down because we don’t have enough volunteers or staff to run it.’ Well great, I have nowhere else to go now, but you know, I’ll see you in four days if, you know, I’m not in the hospital getting my fingers amputated or something.”
For staff of the centre, like Lionhearts Inc. Executive Director Travis Blackmore, the desire to keep the centre open 24 hours a day is there, but it’s not that easy.
“I think there’s just some logistics and obviously some financing to come through on that part too,” Blackmore says. “I totally understand the thought process there and we’re all trying to work on it behind the scenes the best that we can.”
Blackmore says that there are approximately 15 people staying overnight at the centre that holds 19 sleeping pods. From 8 p.m. to midnight, the warming centre has capacity to serve 35 people.
Charbanneau and Strange acknowledge the work from staff at the centre, saying many go above and beyond their job description.
“There’s an incredible crew of people behind the scenes, literally pouring their heart and soul into this,” says Blackmore. “With tremendous compassion and tremendous patience, and we just want to make sure that people feel loved and cared about.”
The city has confirmed that during extreme weather, like this weekend, many libraries across the city are open as warm-up locations while the centre is closed.
Officials have also confirmed that providing overnight care at the Concession Street warming centre, every night, is a priority moving forward.