Regina changes rules for warming bus, redirects volunteers trying to feed homeless

Carrie Kotylak is a volunteer with Warm Meal Planning Team, a grassroots organization that has been providing warm meals to those in need in Regina.  (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)
Carrie Kotylak is a volunteer with Warm Meal Planning Team, a grassroots organization that has been providing warm meals to those in need in Regina. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)

Volunteers trying to provide food to Regina residents experiencing homelessness have been left confused after the city abruptly changed the rules for its warming bus.

Carrie Kotylak is a volunteer with the small grassroots organization Warm Meal Planning Team. The group of about 10 people spent the last three weeks providing meals to those using the city-run warming bus.

That all changed Thursday when they arrived to a find a new sign on the bus saying food and drink donations would no longer be accepted and that donations should instead be taken to All Nations Hope Network on Fifth Avenue.

The decision was made without consulting the group of volunteers and prohibits anyone from bringing food onto the bus.

"They really haven't provided us with any explanation at all for this," Kotylak said.

"They did know how to find us.… We were giving them our information every night on the bus when we were dropping off food."

In response, Kotylak and other volunteers began using their own vehicles to help those in need before ultimately deciding to provide meals at All Nations Hope Network.

The volunteers were baffled by the City of Regina's decision.

"I just think that there was no plan here. There continues to be really no plan and it's extremely frustrating," Kotylak said.

Bus a stop-gap measure

The warming bus is meant to be a stop-gap measure while the city looks to secure a temporary shelter to house the city's most vulnerable.

The bus was originally announced in mid-November as an "urgently needed alternative shelter" for the city's homeless.

The service was then shuttered at the start of December before being reintroduced just a few days later.

CBC
CBC

It now operates seven nights a week on the 1600 block of 11th Avenue and runs from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. CST.

In a statement to CBC News, the city said it changed the rules because it could not "safely and fairly distribute food donations or provide a healthy space for food consumption."

The city said the bus is meant to ensure any person in need has access to a warm overnight space and that it is not capable of providing the same services as a dedicated shelter.

The decision was reached in partnership with the Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RT/SIS), the non-profit organization offering peer support on the warming bus, the city said.

Last week it was agreed that all food donations should be taken to All Nations Hope Network, where the bus travels several times a night, the city said.

'No funding for this in the city budget'

Kotylak said volunteers saw more people start to use the warming bus in the three weeks they were providing food.

That meant an increase to the meals that they were providing, something the volunteers were happy to provide.

"I mean, the reality is, is there was no funding for this in the city budget," she said, referencing a contentious debate over funding programs to end homelessness in the city.

Council ultimately did not include any funding toward ending homelessness in this year's budget.

Kotylak said the Warm Meal Planning Team is continuing to volunteer and provide food at All Nations Hope Network every day, and is actually providing more meals than before, as they're helping those who are staying at All Nations as well as those using the bus.

"I do this because it is close to my heart and it needs to be done," Kotylak said.