Brandon opening emergency drop-in warming centre as city’s only homeless shelter reaches capacity

Front-line agencies in Brandon say they’re working together on a temporary solution to an ongoing capacity crisis at the southwestern Manitoba city’s only shelter for homeless people.

Earlier this week, Samaritan House Ministries held an emergency meeting, as its 41-bed Safe and Warm shelter was already at capacity — an issue the shelter operator feared will only get worse as the weather gets colder.

In response, the Brandon Neighborhood Renewal Corporation and the City of Brandon said Friday they’ve partnered to open a short-term emergency 24-hour warming centre. 

Rushana Newman, the renewal corporation’s executive director, says the organization felt compelled to help.

“It’s a community crisis. It’s not a Safe and Warm issue, it’s a community issue,” Newman said.

“This is something that needs to be addressed, like, right now — to find somewhere for these people to sleep tonight.”

Under the plan, the renewal corporation will temporarily keep its Blue Door Project drop-in centre on Ninth Street — normally a daytime drop-in — open 24 hours a day as a warming centre, starting Friday night and continuing until next Wednesday morning.

If the Safe and Warm Shelter reaches its capacity limit, individuals can warm themselves at the Blue Door. Security will be on site to ensure the safety of staff and clients overnight, a news release from the City of Brandon said.

Newman said the partnership with the Safe and Warm shelter was a natural fit, as there is a crossover between Blue Door and Safe and Warm clients.

An older woman with glasses stands in front of emergency shelter beds.
Samaritan House Ministries Inc. executive director Barbara McNish stands in the Safe and Warm Shelter on Wednesday. The temporary 24-hour drop-in at the Blue Door is an ‘immediate response to the crisis we are in,’ she says. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Barbara McNish, the executive director of Samaritan House Ministries, agreed, noting the two buildings are less than a block apart, which provides ease of access for clients.

“You don’t have to worry about transportation, or they don’t have to worry about where they’re going … and they know that they’ve got a place to go,” she said.

But she said conversations on how to best support homeless people Brandon in the long term are ongoing, and described the Blue Door 24-hour drop-in as an “immediate response to the crisis we are in.”

Blue Door will keep offering its other services, Newman said. Staff have volunteered their time or used flex time to help operate the temporary 24-hour coverage, along with volunteers from Brandon Bear Clan, said Newman.

“It’s an emergency solution…. It’s just now until we come back to the drawing board and figure a more permanent solution,” she said. 

Homelessness in Brandon, a city of more than 50,000, has been a growing concern for years, said Newman, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This should be an eye-opener…. We know that the shelters are at capacity,” she said. “There is a need for us as a community to do more and there is a need to get to the root of homelessness.”

Not a long-term solution: housing co-ordinator

Shannon Saltarelli, the City of Brandon’s community housing and wellness co-oordinator, said a meeting is scheduled Monday between the shelter, the city, the renewal corporation and other stakeholders to address the capacity issue.

The temporary 24-hour status for the Blue Door “is not by any means a medium- to long-term solution at all,” Saltarelli said.

“Our next steps are going to be, ‘How do we get more sheltering into the city so people actually … have a place to rest and sleep at night, as opposed to an overflow or a warming centre?'”

Brandon’s Safe and Warm emergency shelter, shown here in a file photo, has already reached its capacity. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Saltarelli said she can’t predict what that will look like, but said there are many partners and front-line agencies that potentially have spaces available, and there could be funding that becomes available.

Brandon has seen massive increases in its vulnerable population, Saltarelli said — both people coming to the city and those who already live in Brandon and have become homelessness. 

“I think that everybody who is working in this world … is seeing that massive impact on the services,” Saltarelli said.

“Everyone is really at capacity,” she said, and there’s a “struggle to meet the needs of the people just based on the resources that are available.”

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