News / Vancouver

Using community centres as warming centres: special Park Board meeting called

Pivot Legal Society says all patrons, including homeless people, should have access to community centres

Creekside is one of several community centres that the park board has opened as warming centres during this unusually cold winter.

Wanyee Li / Metro

Creekside is one of several community centres that the park board has opened as warming centres during this unusually cold winter.

Vancouver’s NPA park board commissioners are calling a special Park Board meeting Thursday night to discuss the safety concerns of using community centres as warming centres during cold weather, but some critics are crying foul over the move.

The City of Vancouver have kept up to four community centres open overnight as warming centres for people living on the streets during this winter’s cold snap. A child reportedly picked up a used hypodermic needle Monday at Creekside Community Centre. That warming centre location was closed Monday night.

NPA park board commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung says the incident has made some families feel uncomfortable.

“When patrons are sounding the alarm [saying] I don’t feel safe going to my local community centre anymore, that’s not okay.”

 But Pivot Legal Society argues homeless people are, in fact, also patrons at community centres, which are open to the public. Needles can be found in different parts of the city regardless of whether community centres are used as warming centres, the society suggested.

“The Board is perpetuating the stereotype that spaces cannot be safe if they are utilized by homeless people,” it said in a tweet. See full tweet at bottom of story.

“They are doing all Vancouverites a great disservice in engaging in this rhetoric.”

The City of Vancouver is now only using one community centre as a warming centre (Britannia) and operating three others out of the former Quality Inn near Granville Street, Carnegie Community Hall, and Evelyn Saller Centre.

A mixture of city staff and volunteers are running those warming centres, according to a City of Vancouver spokesperson.

But Kirby-Yung wants the board to discuss the safety concerns surrounding using community centres as warming centres – something it didn’t have a chance to do in December when the City decided to act during the first cold snap.

She called the decision to open Britannia and Creekside community centres overnight a “knee-jerk reaction.”

That decision was later expanded to include West End and Sunset community centres before those closed earlier this month.

“That program became more expansive and it hasn’t come to the board yet. I think the board needs to have the opportunity to have that discussion,” she said.

The special park board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Park Board office at 2099 Beach Ave. 

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