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North Bay area looking for new location, new operator for winter warming centre

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What was supposed to be a daytime safe haven to get out of the cold, turned into a security headache.

579 Fraser Street, the site of North Bay's winter warming centre for the 2023-2024 winter season. April 26, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

The District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNASSAB) acknowledges the 579 Fraser Street Warming Centre location didn’t work out as it hoped.

“It's the lived experience that I have with trying to address the business community about the problems they faced,” board chair and city councillor Mark King said.

The Warming Centre needed retrofitting before it was completely ready. A bathroom was added. Originally open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. and equipped to hold between 40 and 50 people and King said the facility would see up to 100 each night trying to stay warm.

Michael Andy was one of them.

“They did their best to help accommodate our needs,” he said.

“We had breakfast every morning. Staff provided us a warm place.”

A few people gathered outside the former site of North Bay's winter warming centre on Fraser Street on April 26, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

The problem, King told CTV News, was he received numerous phone calls from the neighbourhood and nearby businesses about alleged drug dealing taking place in front of the shelter and he received calls regarding the number of transient people congregating in the area.

“I always like to learn from experience,” he said.

“The idea is not to repeat that experience, right? Learn from it and we should have learned.”

DNSSAB plans to move on meaning the board needs to find a new location by the fall.

That’s not the only thing, the Gathering Place staff, who have been overseeing the warming centre’s operations for the past two winters, won’t be running the shelter next season. Officials with the local soup kitchen told CTV News in a phone interview Friday that it chose not to renew the contract and will instead focus on its food programs.

“They found it extremely hard to operate,” said King.

“That's what happens with these situations. They're not easy to operate.”

This leaves the future of the Warming Centre up in the air. During the last board meeting, a few names of organizations were mentioned as potential candidates with the knowledge and expertise that could take over the shelter, the North Bay Regional Health Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association.

A photo of North Bay city councillor Mark King. (Supplied/City of North Bay)

King said he hopes the Crisis Centre North Bay will pick up the pieces in some way shape or form.

“I suspect the crisis center is probably best equipped to try and understand how to make it work,” he said.

“I hope they are involved in it.”

Andy said he knows firsthand that without a daytime shelter during the frigid winters, people living on the streets will suffer.

“When it was really cold, it was really nice to have a place to go and sit down with no other place for us to go,” he said.

The board will have to go through a public tender process to find the shelter’s new operator.

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