FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Fort St. John warming centre is closing down for the summer, with its last day being June 3rd, but staff hope to reopen the centre in September.
Tiffany Mearow, with People Employment Services, says the warming centre offered a place for the city’s vulnerable populations to come to during the day.
“We didn’t have to worry about somebody being found in a snowbank, frozen,” she stated, referencing the reason they opened.
She says they averaged over 20 people daily, between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.
The centre has closed for the foreseeable future due to lack of funds.
Mearow says that the funding was provided through the Union of BC municipalities.
The City of Fort St. John partnered with Urban Matters, Community Bridge, the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society and others for a grant that was allotted to the city for different organizations.
“This was part of it. So we always knew that it was going to be temporary. Our hope was that we could have extended it over the summer to act as a cooling centre, but unfortunately, we were unable to do that,” she said.
She mentions that everyone behind the scenes is trying to get funding for September set up so that the centre can be reopened for the winter months.
Mearow believes it is hard for northern communities to get provincial funding.
“Everybody thinks that the vulnerable sectors and vulnerable populations are only in bigger city centres, but really it impacts everybody, and we have to compete with the rest of BC to be like ‘hey, we need funding,'” she explained.
“At the end of the day, we’re all people, and everybody should have the right to have their basic needs met, and this is what that place provides.”
Mearow notes that the centre acted as an overdose prevention site of sorts by directing people to the necessary services, such as the Women’s Resource Centre or mental health and addictions programs, if needed.
All staff members are first aid and naloxone trained.
“We’re providing them with a safe place. Somewhere they feel safe, wanted, valued, appreciated,” she said.
“Everybody has everybody’s back.”
Mearow says the staff and those that utilized the centre were like a family.
“We need to in Fort St. John stop that stigma, stop that shame and come together as a community and figure out how we can actually help our most vulnerable populations.”