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Demonstrators protest closure of city’s downtown warming centre

Organizer says protesters are concerned closing the warming / cooling centre will leave a hole in services for city’s population of homeless people

It was a peaceful and passionate display from a small group of demonstrators April 27 who protested the warming centre closure on April 27. 

They held signs at the corner of Larch and Paris streets on the steps of Tom Davies Square to ask for support for the vulnerable population who, after the warming centre closure on May 31, will be left without a place to gather. 

Organizer Kaitlyn Corbiere studied Indigenous social work and has also been homeless at two points in her life due to domestic violence. 

She told Sudbury.com there are many barriers to finding housing, beyond substance use issues or mental health. She said she organized the rally for awareness and support. 

“It's just kind of raising awareness, giving and offering that extra support, showing that this vulnerable sector does deserve dignity,” she said. 

Corbiere also said she is upset there will be no warming or cooling centre once the funding runs out on May 31. 

“I wonder what would come in place of this, if you're gonna take away a resource,” she said.

She said she believes some funding has gone towards other services in Sudbury, but that in her experience, and her brother’s, who is currently homeless, there are permanent bans or “service restrictions” put in place. 

“He's a part of this community and now he has nothing available to him, and the warming centre also prevented overdoses,” she said.  “So with that prevention being gone, are we going to see more white crosses down the street? Are we going to see more deaths? I believe we will.”

Prior to the pandemic, the city did not operate a warming/cooling centre, as existing services appeared to meet the need, but capacity limitations, staff shortages and a host of other issues created the demand for a refuge from the elements.

Since April of 2020, the city has hosted warming or cooling centres at the Sudbury Arena, YMCA, Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury and the 199 Larch Street provincial boardrooms. Those will be discontinued as supports like the Samaritan Centre, Elgin Street Mission and Blue Door Soup Kitchen reopen.

As well, resource centres and the Greater Sudbury Public Library branches are noted within the presentation as now accepting in-person visitors and according to a release from the city, they continue to “offer services to the public and provide a space where individuals can go and access computer resources, washrooms and shelter from the elements.” 

For services to access overnight, the city states there is space available at the shelters, including Off the Street Shelter at 200 Larch, as well as the new Elizabeth Fry Society-run women’s shelter.

The warming centre is set to close on May 31, with staff working with the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth (SACY) to reduce daytime programming in March before closing completely ahead of city staff returning to work, as well as the end of existing funding.

A rally in front of Tom Davies Square April 27 not only brought out protestors speaking out against the closure of the warming centre, but also two members of the Great Sudbury Police Liaison team, there in case individuals with “counter ideologies” attended. 

GSPS spokesperson Sarah Kaelas told Sudbury.com that the GSPS liaison team is a support group “specially trained to proactively manage both orderly and disorderly crowds.” 

Their mandate is to “establish and maintain open and transparent lines of communication with all stakeholders who may be affected, directly or indirectly, by major events,” said Kaelas. 

She said the Greater Sudbury Police Service respects everyone’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and that their role is to ensure public safety and to keep the peace. 

“In the event that individuals with ‘counter ideologies’ attend the area, police are there to mitigate and de-escalate the situation should that be necessary.” 

At Wednesday’s rally, two officers dressed in plain clothes but wearing ball caps with the GSPS logo emblazoned on them spoke briefly with organizer Corbiere, gave her a business card with their contact information, as well as a pamphlet called “Legal Information for Demonstrators,” describing the role of the team, the rights and limits regarding those rights, as well as a description of an arrest for breach of peace. 

That portion reads: “An arrest for breach of the peace does not result in a charge, the purpose of an arrest for breach of peace is to end the breach and restore order.”

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.