Former Stuart Wood Elementary School is serving an important temporary purpose this winter: saving the lives of our most vulnerable population.
As the weather gets colder, the needs of our homeless population increase. For several years, an emergency cold weather shelter has been operated out of Emerald Centre or New Life Community to meet those needs. However, neither space is adequately setup or equipped to support the additional capacity and logistics of a temporary emergency winter shelter.
While a long term plan for Stuart Wood is underway to create an educational community space, the City of Kamloops received support from the Province of British Columbia and Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) to use the gymnasium and west portion of the building as a temporary winter emergency shelter. The City also acknowledges the importance of permanent housing options for folks and is actively working to create more units of housing for the community's homeless.
"With Stuart Wood sitting empty, this is an opportunity for the City to provide an accessible space for temporary emergency use," says Jen Casorso, the City's Social and Community Development Supervisor. "It's an accommodating location to support folks on the street who are in crisis and need warmth so they don't succumb to the elements."
The temporary emergency winter shelter will open on November 1, 2017, funded by BC Housing and operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). The shelter will be open from 8:00 pm-7:00 am and is expected to be open seven days a week until March 31, 2018.
"It's important for the shelter to be open consistently," says Christa Mullaly, Executive Director at CMHA Kamloops. "This is a hard-to-reach population and they need to know where they can find shelter on any given day."
This new temporary emergency winter shelter is in addition to the existing shelter services in the community, which regularly have to turn people away due to capacity issues. Last winter, the Out of the Cold program at St. Paul's Cathedral reached capacity every Wednesday and Sunday it was open, and Emerald Centre faces similar capacity issues.
"Unfortunately throughout the spring, summer, and fall, we regularly have to turn people away because we just don't have the space," says Mullaly. "It's simply unacceptable to us to turn people away in the freezing cold. This space means we won't have to turn anyone away this winter, and we're grateful for that."
Shelter spaces provide an immediate response, but are not the long-term goal for the community. Permanent housing solutions with supports are a priority to assist our homeless in obtaining and maintaining their housing. Over the winter, CMHA will work with community partners like ASK Wellness to support moving folks from the shelter into stable housing; from streets to homes. The City also anticipates more permanent housing developments to be created and announced over the next year.
"We are working with the provincial government and community partners to increase the available inventory of housing because we know everyone deserves a home," says Casorso.
Since the announcement was made, questions have been raised by some neighbouring residents about the safety of the school grounds and park space, particularly with respect to improperly discarded needles. The CMHA is aware of concerns and has taken steps in their operational plan to mitigate them, including a sweep of the grounds when the shelter closes each morning.
"Community safety is a priority for the City," says Casorso. "Everyone deserves the right to feel safe, including our homeless."
While planning for the future of this treasured heritage site is still underway, its legacy of serving the Kamloops community will continue this winter.
There are two upcoming community events for residents interested in learning more about housing and homelessness in our community:
- Monday, October 30, 2017, 4:00-6:00 pm – The Canadian Mental Health Association, Kamloops Branch, invites you to attend their Open House at Stuart Wood School, 245 St. Paul Street. Winter Shelter staff will be present to answer any questions from community members related to their operation of the Winter Shelter for the winter of 2017-2018.
- Friday, November 3, 2017, 1:00-3:00 pm – The United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo is hosting a "Seeing is Believing" tour titled "The Path to Home". Attendees visit several locations to learn about the path from homelessness to finding a home. Limited capacity available – please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Become a Part of the Solution
Community builds community. The solution to homelessness does not lie with one individual or organization; it takes a collective effort to see real change. If you are fortunate enough to have unwanted items or free time this winter, here are some ways you can help make things a little better for those less fortunate:
- The CMHA is in need of long folding tables; approximately 40 chairs; and gently used, clean pillows, fitted twin sheets, twin comforters, and bath towels. Donations can be labeled "WINTER Shelter" and dropped off at the CMHA Emerald Centre Shelter at 271 Victoria Street West.
- ASK Wellness is seeking donations of gently used or new dish clothes, tea towels, small microwaves, small cooking pots and frying pans, and coffee pots. To donate, please contact Jo Bristol at 250-571-0294.
- St. Paul's Cathedral is looking for donations of warm clothing and blankets. To donate or volunteer with the Out of the Cold program, contact Bud Forbes, Out of the Cold Coordinator, at 250-573-3430 or email@example.com.
About Kamloops Shelter Services
- Emerald Centre is the primary main year-round shelter for the city's homeless population. Offering 42 beds, this shelter is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Through the winter, the shelter will be filled to capacity prior to Stuart Wood's 8:00 pm intake.
- "Out of the Cold" is an annual winter shelter program that operates two days a week at St. Paul's Cathedral. It will commence regular operations on November 1, 2017, and be open Wednesdays and Sundays from 7:00 pm to 7:30 am until March 29, 2018.
- Stuart Wood will become a temporary emergency winter shelter to handle the overflow from Emerald Centre and Out of the Cold. It will operate seven days a week from November 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018.
- ASK Wellness operates 20 motel units as cold-weather shelter spaces.
- YMCA Women's Shelter provides safe refuge and support for women and children, 24/7 phone support, referrals to community resources, and more, all free of charge. Call 250-374-6162 or text 250-682-7931.
- Youth Shelter is operated by Interior Community Services and is a four-bed shelter for youth aged 13-18 years old in need of safe, temporary housing. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to assist youth in meeting their basic needs, including food, shower, laundry, harm reduction, Naloxone, and crisis intervention. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis, although self-referrals, family referrals, and community partner referrals are also accepted. For more information or to access call 778-470-0991 or toll-free at 1-855-629-SAFE (7233). The Youth Shelter can also be reached via text to 250-319-0264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.