The operators of the warming centre at 7500 Donaldson Dr. have been asked to vacate the building by July 31 after a city analysis of the zoning bylaws governing the area found that the building does not allow for overnight use.
Enforcement of the bylaw means that the 14-16 individuals that regularly use the space as a shelter will have to find a new space to settle, despite the fact that Whispers of Hope Benevolence Society, the organization in charge of running the centre, does not yet have an alternate location secured.
“Given the situation,” said Whispers of Hope Benevolence Society coordinator Melissa Shulga, “we hope that they may reconsider.”
“We hope they can at least give us some time [to find an alternative],” Shulga added.
The warming centre has been a strong point of contention with neighbours, who have reported noise, nuisance and even stolen property complaints to local RCMP since the shelter opened in the old Greyhound depot last winter. Sgt. Darryl Peppler of the Grand Forks RCMP told the Gazette that the RCMP receives an average of a call per day around 7500 Donaldson Dr., either from a staff member at the centre, a client or a neighbour.
Shulga, meanwhile, said that by closing the warming centre a variety of other benefits will be put into jeopardy.
“We have to consider the ramifications of what this entails,” she said.
Right now, though distinctly not a safe injection site and therefore drug use itself is not permitted on-site, the warming centre provides harm reduction supplies to people who use drugs, such as clean needles and safe storage and disposal for used paraphernalia as well as advice, such as “use with supervision,” all under the umbrella of cutting down on lethal overdoses for people who use drugs in the region.
Some neighbours, meanwhile, said that they have felt as though their own rights to a safe property have been threatened by being so near to the warming centre site.
“What about my harm reduction,” Pamela Kennedy asked city council at a committee of the whole meeting on Monday.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t take care of the misfortunate, the homeless and the deprived people in our community,” said Whispers of Hope president Duane Foster in a bid to get council to reconsider the judgement.
“I would like you to remove that situation so that we can have a stool with three legs where we can all be partners: the city, Whispers of Hope and our province.”
“What about the citizens?” said a voice in the gallery, opposed to the warming centre.
The people who use the warming centre will not be allowed to camp in city parks either once the shelter closes. Last month, council ruled overnighting in all city parks illegal.
The notice of eviction for the warming centre comes just as a new Grand Forks social services advisory group has been tasked with finding solutions that can appease both critics of the warming centre’s current location and practices as well as advocates for marginalized people and people who use drugs in Grand Forks.
Jan De Haan, a member of the advisory group as a representative for Citizens for a Better Grand Forks, admitted that closing the warming centre is no solution, noting that the people who use it will go somewhere. While neighbours may feel more comfortable with it gone, he said, “that’s not to say that a properly run warming centre in a better location couldn’t do a lot better.”