Two warming centres opened in Nanaimo on January 18, 2021, with support from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy.
Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they provide a place for our unsheltered neighbours to rest, to stay warm, have a bite to eat, charge their phones and be safe. Some have wondered if the warming centres offer only short-term benefit, helping people to better pass their day, but that’s it. In talking with the workers at the 285 Prideaux warming centre, and those who regularly use the warming centre at 489 Wallace, we’ve learned that these centres offer so much more.
David says he comes to the warming centre at 489 Wallace to be around people, to work on the school program he’s enrolled in, and to be treated like a human being.
Right now, David is homeless, and sleeps at the Unitarian shelter. But he warns that the term “homeless” is too often used to categorize away the varied experiences that result in an individual having no home.
“My situation is not like everybody else’s. And everybody else’s situation is not my life. Trying to concentrate a group of people into one little container is not right. Because we all have different things and reasons why we’re here,” he says.
For instance, while drug use can be one element that leads to homelessness, and is often associated with those who are homeless, that is not true for David.
“Let’s get one thing straight here – I do not drink, I do not smoke … I do not inject, I do not inhale, I do not this, I do not that. I sound like one of those Sam I Am people. But seriously.
“I eat real food; I eat junk food. I drink pop, I play videogames, I cycle, I dance, I think for myself, and I think above and beyond what is right in front of me, most times.”
But not conforming to the stereotype of homelessness doesn’t mean you are immune from losing your home.
David lost his home of four years after a fire inspection showed that the building where he was renting a room had some extra rooms that did not match the blueprint. As a result, he was told he had to leave.
That was about two months ago, and David hasn’t had any success in finding suitable housing that he can afford. “In Nanaimo, it’s almost impossible,” he says. “To be blunt, it’s a joke.”
That’s why he’s enrolled himself in a building supply warehouse distribution management course. Though he’s been applying to jobs, and even had some interviews, they haven’t resulted in anything, he says.
“So that’s why I decided to do this course and give myself some more skills so that I can take those skills and get in contact with other places that are looking to hire people that are serious about working and that want to make a difference in the world around them.”
Support from warming shelter staff, having access to the internet, access to basic things like a bathroom and a place to sit, and having that supportive environment where people treat each-other like people are what is making it possible for David to help himself, he says.
In fact, it was the warming centre staff that directed him to the Unitarian shelter after he had spent one night out on the street.
The warming centre (run by SEIA) is a steppingstone to something greater, says David – it makes it possible for him to help himself, which in turn is encouraging others to help themselves, too.
It’s a place that you are allowed to exist, which means you can grow, and to lift up those around you.
“That’s what I think the problem is right now,” he says. “Everybody is getting shuffled around. ‘OK, we don’t want you here, shuffle them over there. We don’t want you there, shuffle them over there.’
“But if they stop and take a moment and realize that that is another human being, and show a little patience, a little compassion, and dare I say this word, a whole lot of love, then you’ll be amazed at what somebody can do and will do for you.”
Treating people like human beings who deserve patience and love is the key, he says.
He said he hopes the warming centre can stay open throughout the year, and that he wants greater access to bathrooms, food, and shelter for those in need.
“I’m very thankful for the warming centre,” says David. “I’m thankful for all the people, and I’m talking from anybody that is a volunteer to the people on the top that provide the funding so that people like myself and other people that really need access to a good environment can step up and onto something to make a difference, so that they can contribute back into it. Because once I’m done, and once I am making money and things like that, I am planning on contributing back in whatever way I can.”
“I love these people.”