New warming centre looks to address shelter shortage crisis in Brandon

In an effort to address the ongoing shelter crisis in Brandon, Man., Samaritan House Ministries officially opened "The Q" warming shelter for overflow clients Thursday. The new centre welcomed its first clients Friday.

'The Q' will provide warm spot when Brandon's Safe and Warm shelter passes capacity

A woman dressed in Christmas clothes stands in front a room with chairs and blankets for unhoused people.
Samaritan House Ministries executive director Barbara McNish — dressed in caroller garb for fundraising activities in Brandon on Saturday — stands in 'The Q,' a new overnight warming centre. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

When Chelsea Cote is on the hunt for a safe place to stay in Brandon, the Samaritan House Ministries Safe and Warm shelter is usually her chosen destination.

The shelter in the southwestern Manitoba city has created a community that feels like a home, she says.

"I made a lot of friends here," Cote said. "This is our home now."

However, since late October there has been no guarantee of finding a safe place there, after the shelter hit its capacity limit for the first time since opening in 2013.

To address the shelter space shortage, Safe and Warm officially opened "The Q," an overflow warming shelter, on Thursday.

The new warming space was used for the first time to take in overflow clients on Friday, Samaritan House Ministries executive director Barbara McNish said.

As a warming centre, The Q has chairs and blankets for people to stay "snug and warm," she said, but it doesn't offer anywhere to sleep.

But operating on the same hours as the overnight Safe and Warm shelter — 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. — the new warming centre will provide somewhere to go if the shelter space passes its 41-client capacity.

"It's cold. People are not always able to find a safe and warm place," said McNish, which can be deadly in Manitoba's winter chill.

"If we're at capacity, we have The Q."

'We've never turned people away'

In October, Samaritan House Ministries — which runs the Safe and Warm shelter — held an emergency meeting to address its shelter bed capacity crisis, which created a precarious situation for those that use its services, said McNish.

On some nights, the shelter sees more than 60 people drop in — but no more than 41 can use the facility at a time, she said.

A group of people stand on and in front of the steps leading to a white, aluminum-sided building, made from a converted shipping container.
McNish, back right, stands with Safe and Warm clients outside The Q. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter has seen 1,220 distinct visitors use its services — a significant number in a city of just over 51,000.

For the current year up to Nov. 10, the shelter shelter had seen 443 unique visitors.

"We had to turn people away [this year], and we've never turned people away," McNish said.

The plan is for The Q to operate for the next four or five months, to help people get through the winter, she said.

"If we can have people in the warming centre and nobody cold and left out in the cold, then it's successful."

'We enjoy this'

The name "Q" was chosen in honour of a person in the community named Quinton, who went by the nickname "Q," and was a great advocate for providing safe and warm shelter space before his recent death, McNish said.

Naming the space after the advocate speaks to the importance of working together to provide safety, warmth and compassion for those in need, she said.

"Samaritan House does that — helping those in need. So if I can give you a bed or a bite to eat, then I've helped. But I don't do it alone. I do it because people out there donate to us.... We all help those in need."

The new warming centre was made possible through $150,000 in funding from the province, which was announced last month. The United Way and the City of Brandon have also helped with emergency funding to get the centre open, said McNish.

But Safe and Warm guest Gabriel Ibarra says more support is needed from the government.

He said the facility seems to survive on donations from the community, and governments — including local government — need to step up to provide more aid.

"We rely on donations," he said. "Where has the heart come from the city?"

"Where has any giving come from the city to provide us with any kind of shelter or food or warmth or safety?"

Levi Huntinghawk from Rolling River First Nation visits the Safe and Warm shelter regularly.

He says he tries to use whatever resources are available, and thinks The Q is a good idea. He added he likes the name because it celebrates "Q," who was a friend.

He hopes the new shelter keeps a focus on meeting the needs of its users.

"Keep it easy, simple, and make sure you don't slip along the way," Huntinghawk said.

"We enjoy this. I enjoy this."


Chelsea Kemp

Brandon Reporter

Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC's bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with