NORTH BAY -- With the latest cold snap in the city, vulnerable people in the community have a new option to escape the winter elements. 

A new daytime warming centre opened on Wednesday in the old Ontario Provincial Police building on Chippewa Street West, which sits on the same property as the city’s low-barrier homeless shelter.

"It’s something that we’ve been waiting for for a long while," said Mark King, the chair of the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board. "It’s taken some time to get to this particular point, but yes, absolutely exciting."

While the shelter operates at night, this will provide respite for people during the day,

Construction crews were still on-site on Tuesday getting it ready to open. Although not complete yet, officials said it would be ready enough to open by Wednesday morning.

"We’re open 8:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., but really, if you look at it as a campus model, all in the same location, it’s two separate buildings, but working together and running a 24-hour service for our guests," said Jason Corbet, manager of operations and communications for the Nipissing Mental Health Housing & Social Services.

With COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the centre will be able to accommodate up to 21 clients per day, plus staff members. With it being on the same property as the low-barrier night shelter, clients can easily walk between the two and check into the warming centre in the morning.

"There’s a tremendous need for a warming centre," Corbet said. "Obviously, having anybody out in the cold is not ideal. We don’t want that for anybody. Having space for 21 is an incredible start."

King said this was the last missing piece.

As of now, the plan is to keep the centre open until the end of March, but with Canadian winters sometimes lasting longer, King said the closing date is an on-going discussion.

"That was an executive board discussion, it was quite lengthy actually, [Tuesday] morning, talking about that very situation," King said. "We’ve been fortunate enough to receive $407,000 from the provincial government just in the last week to recognize that particular issue. It was discretionary money which will help."

"We also know that the province [Tuesday] morning announced $120 million in funding to help those homeless and in vulnerable situations, so I’m very, very confident that the operation will stay open for the foreseeable future."

On top of providing a safe and warm shelter during the day, the centre will also serve three meals a day in partnership with The Gathering Place and will have showers and laundry services available.

Corbet said everything will be tailored to each individual.

"There will be a TV. There’s also going to be other recreational services that we’re going to be looking at providing to keep people engaged. And then obviously individualizing services," he said. "So, connecting with other community partners to see if they can come in to provide services to those in need and so people’s day will likely be filled with wrapping services around them."

The centre is open for anyone in need, but officials said rules and respect will be a top priority.

"In order for somebody to access the services, obviously, some of the things that we expect from clients is that they will treat our staff with respect," Corbet said. "That they will ensure a safe environment for our staff. I mean, we are well-staffed to ensure safety, but that’s a two-way street."

King said respectful and safe behaviour is expected at the facility.

"We all operate under rules and, you know, if people are creating a problem, there are two security guards on site. […] That type of behaviour will not be tolerated inside these accommodations," King said.