As Burnaby warming centres close, BC Housing seeks new space

The City of Burnaby is closing its warming centres at the end of May after extending the shelters two months beyond the original March close date.

The warming centres are part of BC Housing’s winter shelter program, which expands shelter space in communities throughout the province during the coldest, wettest months of the year. BC Housing’s funding for the shelters runs dry annually on March 31, but this year the city decided to fund an extra two months out of pocket.

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To ensure physical distancing protocols, the shelters were moved into city arenas, where beds could be spaced at least two metres apart.

The move was to keep some of the city’s most vulnerable residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the city has decided not to extend the program into the summer, despite the ongoing pandemic.

“We have to start getting our arenas prepared for normal business,” Mayor Mike Hurley told the NOW.

Hurley couldn’t provide a specific timeline for opening the city’s arenas, and arenas aren’t specifically mentioned in the city’s newly unveiled framework for opening facilities.

But while public sporting events aren’t likely to come for many months – until there’s widespread immunity to or treatment for COVID-19 – the arenas could start opening by the end of summer. The city’s reopening framework notes it will be looking at limited opening of community centres and other similar facilities between June 1 and Sept. 30.

“Our staff are working on that, but we do need to start. Obviously they have been changed quite a bit to run the warming centres, so we need to start changing those back and be prepared for when we see being able to open arenas again,” Hurley said.

“But BC Housing is working diligently to find alternative places for the homeless to go. So we’re hoping they can make those targets, but unfortunately we have to start returning to our normal business.”

While BC Housing funds the winter shelters, operations are contracted out to non-profits – in the case of Burnaby, it’s the Progressive Housing Society.

But BC Housing is “continuing to look at a number of ways to bring people inside, and options continue to evolve along with the needs of the community,” the housing authority said in an email statement.

BC Housing noted it has secured one site with 30 spaces in Burnaby, so far. The site is being used to accommodate vulnerable people, including those facing homelessness and people who do not have symptoms but are immunocompromised.

Access to that site is managed through Fraser Health referrals, according to BC Housing. The site includes access to showers and washrooms, laundry, and health services.

Hurley could not say offhand how much running the warming centres for two extra months cost the city.

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