The warming centre located in the basement of what was formally the Apostolic Way Church located on 324 Victoria Ave, officially opened on Wednesday, almost two weeks ahead of schedule.
The church was purchased in September by The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) as a way to provide warm shelter for homeless individuals through the coldest months of the year.
The church was originally set to open on Dec 1, but Dan McCormick, chief administrative officer at RRDSSAB, said the date was pushed up because of the Social Services Relief Fund (SSRF) from the province and a donation from the Town of Fort Frances.
The SSRF was announced in October by the Ontario government. The funding is part of the governments $510 million investment to help protect the safety and wellbeing of the province’s most vulnerable people.
McCormick said they were promised $512,000 which was mainly used for COVID relief.
All occupants wishing to stay the night are screened before entering by a staff member in personal protective equipment and occupants must follow COVID protocols by wearing masks and social distancing.
“Hopefully that reduces the risk of any transmission. If we ever did have a positive case, they’d be sent for testing through the assessment centre and referred to the health unit.
The warming centre is open from 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. the next day. The doors lock at 11, and if you leave, you cannot come back inside. Individuals in the centre by 11p.m. can stay until 7:30 a.m.
There are rules that guests of the centre must follow, such as they cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while in the building.
RRDSSAB have begun the first part of renovations on the building, starting with changing the flat roof at the back of the building to a sloped roof. The renovations have been funded through Reaching Home for capital.
Along with replacing the roof, they are looking into having safe beds in that section of the building which is treatments specifically for mental health and addictions. RRDSSAB is looking to partner with the Canadian Mental Health Association to provide the service. While in the main area of the church, they are looking to bring in transition beds on the main floor to help individual transition from a treatment program.
“The whole intent is to basically improve their life,” McCormick said. “Give them the tools and the skills necessary to deal with whatever is interrupting their life and then try to get them into permanent housing of some sort that’s affordable for them. It’s basically a bridge point to get them into care.”
They are also looking to add a third floor to the church which would be office space for supporting programs for the building.
The church will act as safe haven from the cold. However, it is not a permanent solution. McCormick said the church will act as a bridge point to eventually getting individuals into a safe bed program or transition program.
“What we’re trying to do with the warming centre is get them off the street and hopefully improve their life and move them forward instead of just putting them back out on the streets every day,” McCormick said.
McCormick said the warming centre will be open until April 30, 2021, which has been extended by a month from the original date of March 31.