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City opens overnight warming centres for homeless during cold snap


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Following the tragic freezing death of a homeless man on Windsor’s streets last month, the city has opened overnight warming centres to help people warm up.

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“It’s something new that the shelters are trying,” said Jennifer Tanner, manager of homelessness and housing support for the city.

“It seems to be going over really well.”

Since the Omicron variant appeared late last year and the reversion to stricter COVID-19 protocols, the city’s shelter system has been strained.

“In the past we have either just relied on the existing emergency shelter beds to meet the needs during the winter and we really haven’t set up a specific warming centre,” Tanner said.

“But the Downtown Mission came up with this idea to have an overnight warming centre to expand their capacity while still adhering to public health guidelines related to COVID and physical distancing and so on.”

It’s been a great success and it’s brought a lot of comfort to us to know there are places to go in this.

Tanner said planning for the overnight shelters was already underway when Anatole Rybas, 69, was found frozen to death on Ouellette Avenue on the afternoon of Jan. 31.

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“There are some individuals that find that staying overnight at a shelter poses some challenges so they can come in, warm up for a little while and go out again, which really works for some individuals,” Tanner said.

“It’s been a great success and it’s brought a lot of comfort to us to know there are places to go in this.”

Saturday night the mercury is forecast to drop to -13C.

“The number of emergency shelter beds at both the Downtown Mission and Salvation Army were reduced for a period of time based on COVID guidelines and public health direction,” Tanner said.

“We were working really hard with the shelters and the health unit to increase the capacity to what is needed while respecting the COVID protocols for sure.”

The overnight shelters are open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and there are 10 warming spaces at the mission and 16 at the Salvation Army.

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“The Downtown Mission is ready to welcome any person seeking comfort from this inclement and dangerous winter weather,” said interim executive director Rukshini Ponniah-Goulin.

“We have 84 shelter beds and 10 warming spots. The additional support and resources that the City of Windsor provided will keep people experiencing homelessness safe from the harms that this weather can inflict.”

The city also wants to remind people that the Welcome Centre Shelter for women and families at 263 Bridge Ave. operates 24 hours a day and the Homelessness and Housing Help Hub in the former Windsor Water World at 400 Wyandotte St. E. is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The city reminds people that being outdoors for prolonged periods of time during extreme cold can lead to frostbite or hypothermia, which constitutes a medical emergency.

If you are concerned about the health or safety of yourself or someone who is living outdoors during extreme cold days, call 911 immediately.

“There remains a warming centre with the goal of providing a warm and safe space to be inside,” said Danny Pinksen, executive director of Salvation Army Community Services. “The Salvation Army continues to work in collaboration with the City of Windsor and local public health unit.”

chthompson@postmedia.com

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