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Daytime weekend warming centres coming to rec centre, library

Push to extend hours into evening defeated; 'I do not want to live with the fallout of people being found on the street in those conditions,' said Coun. Tim Lauer
recreation centre tour
Orillia Recreation Centre. Tyler Evans/OrilliaMatters file photo

Two daytime emergency warming centres will be available in Orillia on weekends.

After a lengthy discussion during Monday’s council committee meeting — including calls to expand the service to seven days a week — council members opted to go with staff’s recommendation.

It will see temporary warming centres set up at the Orillia Recreation Centre (Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and the Orillia Public Library (Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) whenever the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit issues an extreme cold weather advisory, which happens when the temperature is expected to be -15 degrees Celsius or colder.

That didn’t go far enough, according to Coun. Tim Lauer.

He wanted to see the hours for the warming centre at the rec centre extended to 9 p.m. That would allow those at the rec centre to head right to the overnight warming centre, at the Orillia Community Church, which opens at 9 p.m. when it's cold.

“It doesn’t make any sense that we would kick anybody out at 4 o’clock,” he said.

City staff raised concerns about costs and staffing if the warming centre hours were to be extended.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth shared those reservations, saying allocating additional funding without knowing how much it will be is “poor planning.”

Lauer said the matter was not “complicated or risky.” He was comfortable with approving the hiring of staff for when the warming centre is open.

“… The idea of moving people out or not allowing them to stay in the building because they are not vaccinated or they are cold — I do not want to live with the fallout of people being found on the street in those conditions,” he said.

Andrew Schell, general manager of environment and infrastructure services, said the “biggest challenge” would be finding people to staff the warming centre because the health unit issues extreme cold alerts the same morning.

“I don’t even know how you’d hire staff to get called in last minute,” he said.

Lauer introduced an amendment to the motion to not only extend the warming centre hours at the rec centre to 9 p.m., but also to have the service available any day of the week.

Lauer and councillors David Campbell, Jay Fallis and Pat Hehn voted in favour, but the motion was defeated when Mayor Steve Clarke broke the tie and voted against it.

The original motion passed, and it included a direction to Clarke to write a letter to the Lighthouse shelter to ask it to consider opening its facility as a warming centre.

That was met with opposition from some councillors.

Hehn said she talked with Lighthouse executive director Linda Goodall about the matter on the weekend.

“It’s not that the Lighthouse doesn’t want to do it; it’s just that, at this point, they are unable to do it,” she said.

She noted a meeting was set to take place Tuesday with representatives from city council, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, the Lighthouse and the health unit, and Hehn said she would seek clarification at that time about why the Lighthouse can’t be used as a warming centre.

For that reason, she said, a letter from the mayor was not necessary.

“Why would we send a letter to the Lighthouse asking them to do something that we know they can’t do?” she asked.

Fallis agreed, saying a letter might lead to “pressure to conform.”

Clarke said he would not be trying to “coerce” the Lighthouse and that it would simply lead to a response on the record.