Warming centre lease expires end of August, Whispers of Hope confirms

A July 31 deadline was initially given to the operators but was changed to allow for month’s notice

Though the warming centre at 7500 Donaldson Dr. was originally reported to be closing July 31, Whispers of Hope Benevolence Society told the Gazette Thursday that their lease with the building actually extends until the end of August.

The Gazette reported earlier in July that the tenants were given a July 31 deadline to leave by building owners Weeds Glass & Gifts. However, Jim Kennedy, a representative for the cannabis retail store company, said Thursday that they discovered that the end-of-lease notice could only apply to a full month based on the rental calendar. Because the building is leased month-to-month, that one-month notice effectively only kicked in Aug. 1.

Just because the lease extends another month, though, does not mean that the warming centre will be able to operate with full services through August. BC Housing, the funder for the shelter, told the Gazette Friday that “council’s decision to enforce a zoning bylaw resulted in the closure of [the warming centre] on July 31.” BC Housing funding rules dictate that it is “not able to fund operations against city bylaw orders and landlord eviction notices.”

Whispers of Hope board Chair Duane Foster said that the facility is now “winding down,” but organizers say they may still offer services over the next two weeks while there are still paid staff. BC Housing added that “if the city is prepared to extend temporary use of the site and permit overnight stays, BC Housing will provide funding to continue operations […].”

To date, the warming centre has received $226,000 from BC Housing for operational costs, according to an email from the Crown corporation.

The original July 31 date came about after city analysis of the zoning bylaws governing the area found that the building does not allow for overnight use, despite the fact that organizers say there have been 14-16 regulars who overnight at the facility. Council voted 6-1 (with Mayor Brian Taylor opposed) to direct staff to enforce the zoning bylaw at a meeting in June.

The city now says that Whispers of Hope will have an opportunity to appear before council on Aug. 12 to make their case for the city to ease up on the zoning bylaw. Until then, said Kevin McKinnon, deputy corporate officer for the city, bylaw enforcement will not be “heavy handed” with regards to the warming centre.

The warming centre was started last winter as a 100-day extreme weather shelter but has continued to operate past its original end date in March through funding extensions from BC Housing, which still lists the facility as a “temporary shelter” on their website.

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