Sackville’s only overnight warming centre opens for the winter on Wednesday.
The centre, located in the basement of Gateway Church on Beaver Bank Road, is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 9:30 p.m. to 5:45 a.m.
Mike Poworoznyk, director of the centre, said the goal is to open seven nights a week, but it’s been a challenge finding overnight volunteers.
The centre opened in March 2019 in response to a growing homeless population in the area.
Poworoznyk said people need three things: “a person, a place and a purpose.”
“When they are struggling with their place, it’s very important they have a person, and at our warming centre, we’re hoping that our team will be that person for a while, until they can find that place… and that purpose in life.”
Last year, the warming centre served approximately 35 people over the course of the season, Poworoznyk said. People came from all over the Sackville, Bedford, Beaver Bank areas, and some from the Windsor area.
In addition to providing a place for people to get out of the cold, they try to connect people to services. To access housing, people have to move downtown, Poworoznyk said.
“We feel like if they’re in our community, we want to help them in our community because it’s their community too, and they don’t want to leave their community,” he said.
He’s heard some visitors at the centre say they’d rather move back into the woods than relocate downtown.
“I think that there’s an understanding that as you move downtown there are more services, but there’s also more acute issues in terms of drugs, street involvement, mental health issues,” Poworoznyk said. “When you accumulate more people in an area that are having these kinds of issues that can be triggers for each other.”
Randolph White, community library assistant at the Sackville branch, agreed that there are limited supports in place for housing in the community.
White said the library has been cultivating relationships with the community over the last few years. While he’s not sure there’s more homelessness in the Sackville area, he thinks there’s more awareness around it.
“As you get to know people, they feel more comfortable talking about those things,” White said.
There are several organizations in the Lower Sackville area that provide hot meals and clothing to people, and help them connect with services outside the community.
The library primarily focuses on facilitating these connections. White likened connecting people with services to finding a book: listen to what people want and direct them accordingly — even ordering a book or service in.
He said they’ve made space available at the library to services that operate out of downtown Halifax. Going downtown can be uncomfortable for some people because it puts them in an unfamiliar space, he said. “Sometimes people like to stay in their community.”
Poworoznyk said they originally didn’t want the warming centre to be a shelter, but they’ve considered adding a few beds.
“The dream would be that if someone comes to us and is homeless today, that we have an opportunity to move them to a safe, affordable apartment tomorrow,” he said.
But for now, that’s just a dream.
Paul Russell, councillor for Lower Sackville, said he would like to see Sackville get an overnight shelter — if that’s what the community needs.
He said it can be difficult to gauge how many people are homeless in the area because of the landscape. Homeless people on the outskirts of the city often end up sleeping in the woods, away from the public view.
“Downtown, they’re a lot more visible,” Russell said.
Russell said he and the local MLA have spoken about the possibility of getting a shelter space in Sackville, but he isn’t sure why it hasn’t been brought up to the provincial government yet.
Poworoznyk is hoping the warming centre can get funding to continue case management beyond the winter.