Manitoba

Overnight warming shelter expanding, set to open during cold snap

Thanks to new funding, a unique homeless shelter that offers a warm place to sleep — regardless of sobriety — will be open every night of the week during Winnipeg's coldest months of the year.

Just a Warm Sleep will open every night of the week until March 31

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, executive director of 1JustCity spent Sunday getting ready to open the non-profit's overnight warming centre, Just a Warm Sleep. The shelter is expanding to open every night of the week this winter. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Thanks to new funding, a unique homeless shelter that offers a warm place to sleep — regardless of sobriety — will be open every night of the week during Winnipeg's coldest months of the year.

Just a Warm Sleep, an emergency shelter run by local non-profit 1JustCity, is set to open its doors at the Augustine United Church on Pulford Street in Osborne Village Jan. 1.

For the shelter's first two years in operation, it opened only when temperatures hit -10 C or lower, but now in its third year, the emergency shelter plans to open every night until things start warming up at the end of March.

"Obviously in a Winnipeg winter, the need is to be able to sleep inside — somewhere that's warm," explained 1JustCity executive director Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud.

"We're really trying to make sure people have an opportunity to sleep inside and be safe."

Augustine United Church in Osborne Village, in collaboration with 1JustCity, started opening its doors overnight to people who don't have a place to go in 2016. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

With the new funding, provided by the Thomas Sill Foundation, End Homelessness Winnipeg and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the shelter has also hired a full-time housing coordinator for the first time this year.

Blaikie Whitecloud said the new role allows Just a Warm Sleep to work to find a more permanent housing for its clients.

"We know that a temporary solution obviously needs a next step so the housing coordinator funding is going to allow us to make those next steps possible," she said.

"For us it's about building that relationship and then figuring out what that person needs so we can make those next steps."

'As few barriers as possible'

The shelter has room for 25 adults, and unlike some city shelters, sobriety isn't mandatory for those staying the night, provided everyone is respectful and aren't using drugs or alcohol inside the space, says Blaikie Whitecloud.

Just a Warm Sleep also stands apart from other shelters because it allows clients to bring their dogs and shopping carts inside the shelter overnight too.

"We really want to be able to meet people where they're at and to meet the needs that they have," explained Blaikie Whitecloud.

"We wanted to have as few barriers as possible to be able to access the emergency warming centre, so that's why we're allowing dogs and that's why we're allowing shopping carts.

"It's really just about creating a community where a safe sleep can be accessed."

The shelter's space opens at 9 p.m. nightly, and intake stays open with the help of volunteers and security until 11 p.m., when volunteers leave and security stay through the night.

Volunteers return to help clean up from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. the next morning.

Volunteers worked Sunday to crochet mats and blankets out of recycled plastic bags to get ready for Just a Warm Sleep's Tuesday opening. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Blaikie Whitecloud said the shelter is always looking for volunteers and cash donations.

Many of those volunteers were gathered at the church Sunday helping to crochet mats and blankets out of recycled plastic bags to get ready for Tuesday's opening.

And with Environment Canada calling for extreme wind chills that could make it feel like -40 C in the city until Wednesday, the shelter may get a busy start to its third season.

"As we're bundling up for winter I think it's super crucial we remember that many people don't have that opportunity and we can give them that opportunity," said Blaikie Whitecloud.

"For us it's crucial at this time of year that these spaces be made available."

With files from Ahmar Khan

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