United Church council chair Mary Skinner and food bank coordinator Marylynn Rakuson show that the number of visitors that sought relief from the heat at the Emergency Cooling Centre averaged more than 30 per day, and more than 700 between June 24 and July 22. Photo: Jim Bailey

United Church council chair Mary Skinner and food bank coordinator Marylynn Rakuson show that the number of visitors that sought relief from the heat at the Emergency Cooling Centre averaged more than 30 per day, and more than 700 between June 24 and July 22. Photo: Jim Bailey

Emergency cooling centre closing, need for larger shelter

Organizers at temporary emergency cooling centre see greater need for a larger, full-time shelter

The Trail United Church’s Emergency Cooling Centre has run its course and will be closing on July 31.

It definitely wasn’t from lack of use, as the United Church saw 53 people enter the facility on Tuesday, July 20, and as of July 22 more than 700 users since its opening last month.

“It has changed its purpose and its course since June 24 when we opened,” said Marylynn Rakuson, United Church Foodbank Coordinator. “It was darn hot, but now that it’s cooling off the purpose has morphed from an emergency cooling centre to a drop-in centre. And there is a need for that, I’m not saying there is not.”

The cooling centre runs for six hours per day, seven days a week, catering to seniors and residents without air conditioners, the homeless and city’s most vulnerable.

The church, part of the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge, opened its foodbank room at the request of the RCMP and Interior Health after temperatures soared to over 40C.

Greater Trail residents pitched in dropping off boxes of food and drink donations almost daily, and the help of volunteers averaged between five and 11 per day, impressive and very much appreciated, said Rakuson.

But as time went on, the ill effects of heat, drug use, homelessness and mental health made the United Church organizers aware of a greater need for the community.

“People were passing out from the heat, but a bunch of volunteers with all their good intentions are not the best people to be handling this issue,” said Marie Skinner, chair of United Church Council.

The experience was eye opening for Skinner and Rakuson, who want to see a full-time drop-in centre for the city’s most vulnerable, one that is operated by health and mental-health professionals.

“We’re very appreciative to the volunteers who stepped up to the plate, and everyone who donated,” said Rakuson. “It isn’t really the volunteers jobs who go to the United Church to do this. But the City of Trail says, ‘No that’s the job of CDS (Career Development Services)’ and so on – it really becomes politics.”

CDS in partnership with BC Housing was poised to purchase a property for a full-time shelter in downtown Trail in November, but withdrew its application to the city citing funding requirements, yet, continue to seek out options.

CDS currently runs the shelter in Trail, but recognizes that a larger space is needed.

“We currently sit on a housing/homeless committee working on a long term plan for supportive housing and short-term goal of a full time ongoing shelter,” said CDS manager Sheila Adcock. “Currently we operate a full time shelter in Trail and have secured funding until March 2022.

“We have been working with BCHousing, the City of Trail, Skills Centre, mental health and local churches to identify needs and a plan moving forward.

“We have been looking for a larger space but have not found anything suitable to date.”

The shelter is now able to increase its capacity, after having to reduce its numbers to adhere to the COVID protocols.

In May, the City of Trail sent letters to provincial and federal government ministeries requesting assistance to help the city’s most vulnerable.

Health officials were asked to consider an overdose prevention site in Trail as well as enhancements to supportive services such as additional outreach support, addiction services, and counselling resources.

The city also discussed the same issues in council with Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy and South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings with no tangible results.

While, everyone waits, the case for a larger shelter will be made even more evident once winter comes, says Rakuson.

“What are they going to do then?” she asked. “As volunteers, we just step up to the plate and do what we need to do.”

Read: Trail year-round homelesss shelter put on hold



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