A look inside the new warming centre in Pembroke, Ont. Lights are dimmed at midnight after clients are given a meal and a blanket, according to the non-profit that helps run it. (Submitted by Jerry Novack)
People who don't have a warm place to rest during cold Ottawa Valley nights now have an option near the Pembroke, Ont., waterfront.
Non-profit service provider The Grind Pembroke has set up padded reclining chairs, televisions and heated bathrooms in trailers at the farmers' market near Victoria and Lake streets.
"In Renfrew County, we don't have a shelter. The only shelters are North Bay and Ottawa," said Jerry Novack, The Grind's executive director, in an interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.
"There was a real need for us to have some place of refuge during these cold months."
The warming centre opened Dec. 1 with space for 25 people. Four local municipalities, plus donations, have covered the $220,000 cost of running it from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. nightly until the end of April.
Volunteers also play a part, especially those from the Pembroke & Area Community Taskforce.
It's not technically a shelter because it can't meet all the requirements that come with that label, Novack said. For the same reason, it has no cots for sleeping.
Still, it's a step up from last winter when The Grind offered its coffee shop as an overnight shelter.
When the warming centre closes for the day, a co-ordinator comes to help people looking for services. The Grind's hub is about three blocks south on Victoria Street.
Homelessness growing in county
Novack said seven to 10 people use the space on a typical night, but he expects more with overnight temperatures regularly reaching –20 C this week.
Novack said the space has hasted a total of more than 200 people, about half of them men and half women.
"For us at The Grind we do know the majority of them because we'd be providing them a meal that day and making sure we're connecting them … but we do have some that are travelling through that will stop in and then we help them get to their destination," he said.
Jerry Novackis executive director of The Grind Pembroke. The non-profit runs a coffee house, community kitchen, service hub and now a warming centre. (Submitted by Jerry Novack)
According to the county, 55 individuals, couples and families were in need of shelter around the beginning of November, compared to 43 the previous year.
The number of people who can't afford a home, particularly after absorbing a financial shock such as a break-up or eviction, has been growing in the county and beyond because of the disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic and the more recent spike in the cost of living.
More than half of the people found in Renfrew County's survey were around Pembroke, single, living with a mental illness and/or hadn't had a home for more than six months.
Nearly 40 per cent of respondents said they were Indigenous, more than four times the proportion of Indigenous people among the county's general population.
Pembroke is a hub of about 16,600 people in the county, which has a population of 106,400 spread over a large area ranging from Arnprior to Barry's Bay to near Mattawa.