West Nipissing’s warming centre on ice for now

West Nipissing council will not open a warming centre anytime soon, although “an extreme cold weather plan” will be brought forward at the next council meeting.

So explained West Nipissing’s Chief Administrative Officer, Jay Barbeau. Details are light on the extreme cold weather plan, although it would offer “a solution” when a “certain threshold” is reached on the thermometer – it could trigger at -30. Council will discuss the fine points at the next meeting.

As for the warming centre, the discussion continued from a previous request from the community. A petition was brought forward to open a community warming centre within the municipality, most likely within Sturgeon Falls.

See: Cold winter coming for Sturgeon Falls’ homeless

“There’s more to the issue than having a building serve as a warming centre,” Councillor Jamie Restoule noted, including additional costs to staff. Restoule emphasized that “our social services come from the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB),” and right now the municipality is working with DNSSAB to create solutions for West Nipissing.

Working together to alleviate the homelessness in the town is the primary goal, as opening a warming centre would be costly, and the municipality would have to “absorb the cost,” Restoule noted.

Barbeau elaborated. “We can easily find space somewhere and make rearrangements,” to open a warming space, but “the population in question has a variety of needs that need to be met and that we need to guard against.”

However, “it’s not off the table,” Barbeau said, “but we need to talk with our partners about an appropriate strategy” and “we have to consider the liability of all involved.”

See: West Nipissing council denies motion to halt homeless evictions

Homelessness, and the need to house and warm residents has “never been an issue here,” Barbeau emphasized, “so now we’re trying to break new ground, and must work with the government framework that exists within West Nipissing.”

The municipality contributes to DNSSAB, which provides social services to the region. Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon noted the work DNSSAB does “is really quite impressive,” and the “long term outcomes” of its programs are of great benefit for the community.

Recently, members of staff and council visited the Northern Pines Low Barrier Shelter in North Bay. Although it may not be the most convenient destination for a West Nipissing resident, this is the shelter that serves the region. The 21 beds are first come first served.

Councillor Anne Tessier suggested the municipality could help put someone up in a motel, or an unused room within the town. Once safe and warm, outreach workers could check in on them, and help them access services available to them.

Council agreed to bring the idea to DNSSAB, as a meeting is coming up within the “next week or so,” Barbeau said.

“It’s a challenge,” Restoule said, speaking of how the municipality should deal with homelessness. “If there was an easy answer, we’d already have the solution. Unfortunately, there are big challenges.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,