Temporary winter shelter, warming centres coming to Burnaby for the first time

Burnaby recently passed a motion to establish its first temporary winter shelter and warming centre facility, something a local advocacy group been fighting for since 2005.

Advocates say previous shelters, open only during extreme weather, weren’t enough

There are as many as 350 homeless people in Burnaby, says local advocate Karen O'Shannacery. (Christopher Katsarov/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Temporary winter shelters are opening their doors across Metro Vancouver this week as temperatures dip for the first time in some communities.

Until recently that wouldn't have included Burnaby — but the city recently passed a motion to establish its first temporary winter shelter and warming centre facilities, something a local advocacy group been fighting for since 2005. 

"There's about 250 to 350 homeless individuals [in the community] that we're aware of," said Karen O'Shannacery, president of the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby. "That's a lot of people."

Burnaby has the fourth largest number of unsheltered homeless people, O'Shannacery said, but until now didn't have a temporary winter shelter.  

The Lower Mainland is in for a week of frosty mornings with temperatures expected to dip well below freezing. (Gary Graves/CBC)

The city does have an extreme weather shelter, but it opens only when the temperature gets dangerously cold.

"They're operated inconsistently — for instance, today it's –3 C but tomorrow if it comes to 3 C, then the shelter is closed," O'Shannacery said.

"People who are on the street really get confused about when it's open and when it's not."

Temporary winter shelters, on the other hand, are open 24 hours a day throughout winter, until roughly the end of March.

Warming centres, typically hosted in community centres and other public buildings, are opened up overnight as a life-saving measure when the temperatures drop.

One winter shelter and four overnight warming centres are planned for the city.

Burnaby recently passed a motion to establish its first temporary winter shelter and warming centre facility, something a local advocacy group been fighting for since 2005. 5:58

Mayor's election promise

It took the election of Mayor Mike Hurley for the changes to come.

The homeless advocacy society met Hurley last week to lay out their concerns about winter shelters and were "delighted" to learn he was already working to establish new shelters.

"He's moved forward very quickly on one of his election promises and the election promise that meant the most to us," O'Shannacery said.

Previous long-standing mayor Derek Corrigan, who served for 16 years, had previously opposed funding homeless shelters with city money and argued that it was the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments.

"Our belief is that it takes everybody, absolutely everybody, to participate in the creation of solutions and that means all levels of government," O'Shannacery said.  

Burnaby city manager Lambert Chu says they have identified some tentative locations for the shelter and warming centre facilities and hope to have them running within the next week or two.

The Early Edition

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