Winnipeg opens up 2 libraries as temporary warming shelters

The City of Winnipeg is turning two libraries into temporary warming shelters for those needing a refuge from the cold.

City staff will convert the Millennium Library and St. Boniface Library into shelters to be used in the daytime, beginning on Friday. The city expects to operate the shelters for at least two weeks. 

The lack of warming spaces for Winnipeg’s unsheltered population has grown stark this winter, in part, due to the closure of libraries, many businesses and some drop-in shelters owing to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Those people seeking an escape from the chill have packed themselves into bus shacks, with minimal privacy from the people walking or driving by. 

Mayor Brian Bowman told a news conference Thursday that he asked the province to assist with staffing since they have the means and provincial authority over issues of housing and mental health, but he has not heard back. 

“In the absence of immediate action from the provincial government in an area of their jurisdiction, the city is once again the last line of defence,” Bowman said.

“It’s not perfect, but the city is taking this step because action is needed.”

Library, security staff will run centres

The Millennium Library shelter will operate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. The St. Boniface Library shelter will open daily but will be closed next Sunday and Monday. It will also operate for the same hours as the Millennium shelter, except Sunday hours will be limited. 

For now, the city will assume the costs of running the emergency shelters and it will employ library and security staff to operate them.

The shelters will have washrooms, seating and maybe hot beverages, said Jason Shaw, manager of the City of Winnipeg’s emergency operations centre, who said the city will reassess what is needed after opening day. 

Bowman said the city isn’t asking for funding from the province, but the work of their employees.

The Progressive Conservative government, however, said their staff are already occupied. The staff helping to run social programs, such as Manitoba Housing and Child and Family Services, are busy as the pandemic has increased the need for their services.

In a statement, Families Minister Rochelle Squires said she welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with the city on helping Winnipeg’s homeless population.

“Other major cities such as Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal all have formal plans to make warming centres open during extreme temperatures and we invite the city to partner with us on making public warming spaces available and look at options such as opening community centres and redeploying laid off staff,” she said.