Hamilton looks at setting up warming centres for residents

Hamilton public health officials are looking into setting up a warming centre to help people without warm shelter get out of the cold.
Coun. Sam Merulla says the city should look at establishing warming centres for people without warm places to stay. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton public health officials are looking into setting up a warming centre to help people without warm shelter get out of the cold.

Public Health staff will examine the concept, which would be similar to the cooling centres the city operates in the summer. Robert Hall, director of health promotion, says he’ll look at what other areas are doing and see how it could apply to Hamilton.

“One of the things council is looking for is if people are in their apartments and want to go somewhere and warm up,” Hall said.

His staff will look at what colder areas of Ontario do. “What does a place like Thunder Bay do? What does a place like Kenora do?” he said.

The investigation comes after a motion from Hamilton’s board of health, comprised of all members of city council. Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 initiated it.

Merulla said people brought it up to him on Facebook, and he started thinking more on it. Recent cold-related deaths of homeless Toronto residents has people pondering what cities can do, he said.

Two homeless men died recently in Toronto, one 55-years-old and the other 60. One man was found unconscious at a bus stop wearing only jeans and a T-shirt. The other was found in an abandoned panel truck.

In Hamilton, as soon as Public Health issues a cold alert, services such as Salvation Army hit the streets to urge homeless people inside, he said. But it doesn’t happen formally if the alert isn’t called.

The current system seems to be working, Merulla said. But it doesn’t hurt to be careful.

“We’re doing it well, but you can never do it too well,” he said.

He envisions the warming centre as being an arena, somewhere at city hall or another large space accessible to the public. Currently, Public Health provides hotel rooms when there’s an overflow at the shelters. So a warming centre could save money that way too, he said.

Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 seconded Merulla’s motion. He was inspired, he said, by recent events at the 13-storey apartment building at 150 Sanford Ave. N, where problems with the heating system meant residents shivered under blankets and sweaters.

The summertime cooling centres aren’t used much, Hall said.

“People don’t go to them,” he said. “I’m not sure what would happen with heating centres.”

Hall will report back later this year.


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