Warm zone, serving Hope’s homeless, closes its doors

Difficulty finding qualified staff reason behind closure, weeks after opening

Hope’s warm zone is now closed as the society running the program is having difficulties finding qualified staff.

On Jan. 16 Gerry Dyble, executive director of the Hope and Area Transition Society (HATS), said she had received money from BC Housing to open the doors to a “warm zone.” The common area of the Thunderbird Motel Project became a space for people facing homelessness to be during the day.

Less than a month later, the warm zone is closed as the society cannot get the staff to keep it running.

HATS has lost three staff, Dyble said, and the extreme weather program has five staff already working full time at night.

“We’re doing the best that we can to address the situation that we have. Again, it comes down to the staffing,” Dyble said.

“You can’t just place someone out there who has no experience and understanding of homelessness and the systemic issues. There’s mental health, there’s addiction, they’re street-entrenched. To put anyone out there who has no experience would be reckless on our part.”

The warm zone would need two people working at a time, each qualified in how to interact with and serve people facing homelessness. Those hired would only be able to work during extreme weather, November to March, not an ideal prospect for people seeking full-time work.

One client of the extreme weather program said he was disappointed by the sudden closure of the warm zone.

“They tell us they don’t have the staff to let us in, and we’re out here freezing in the rain,” said Dave Phelps. “Don’t tell people you’re open if you can’t be open.”

Dyble said the society is in the process of hiring three employees: a homeless outreach program worker, an aboriginal homeless outreach worker and a community outreach worker. Once these employees are hired, Dyble said they would re-assess to see whether the warm zone would be re-opened.

“We are in the process of hiring more staff and we’ll have to play that by ear. As the weather warms up, we won’t be needing the warm zone,” Dyble said.

As HATS hires new employees, Dyble said the society will be changing the way it runs its homelessness programs. While no concrete changes can be confirmed at this point, the society is having conversations on expanding the focus from people who come to the Thunderbird to those who are homeless all around Hope.

The extreme weather program, a temporary shelter space operated during winter months, is still open from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. at the Thunderbird Motel.

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