Lionhearts: Kingston warming centre to provide meals, sense of community

It’s been nearly two years since the last warming centre was available for those in need in downtown Kingston, but that is about to change, according to the organizers behind a new such centre, scheduled to open in one week on Concession Street.

Tools and supplies outside the doors of he former Odd Fellows Hall, located at 218 Concession Street in downtown Kingston, indicate work is underway to have the facility ready to open as the city’s new warming centre on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. Photo by Penny Cadue.

The former Odd Fellows Hall, tucked away just off Concession Street between MacDonnell and Victoria Streets, will be opening its doors on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, one year and nine months since the last downtown warming centre closed in March of 2020. That warming centre, according to the City of Kingston at the time, was only meant to be seasonal and had been scheduled to close in April 2020. However, amid the then-new COVID-19 pandemic, the centre was closed (just two months after it opened), and the City of Kingston – along with a number of local agency partners – opened a centre in the west end to act as a place for those in need to seek shelter and isolation.

The opening of the new warming centre also marks somewhat of a return of another program aimed at supporting local vulnerable populations, such as those struggling to make ends meet or those who are unhoused: the very well-used Lionhearts COVID-19 Street Project, which saw over 330,000 meals handed out to anyone in need, as well as partnership programs allowing for warming services and connections to other social support programs.

While the new warming centre won’t officially see the return of the Street Project, the warm food service model that will be employed at the new centre will be administered by the Lionhearts and somewhat similar in nature, explained Travis Blackmore, Founder and Executive Director of Lionhearts Inc.

Much of the Street Project took place outdoors, but the in colder months of its operations, the project partnered with different local agencies and businesses, such as Stages Nightclub, to deliver the program indoors, while also allowing clients to warm up, charge their devices, and connect with other service providers on site.

The new warming centre, which was first announced during a meeting of the Kingston Response Group and local media and officially announced one week ago on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.

“We’ve been looking for a new location to operate a similar service to what we did last year at Stages Nightclub. It was a local developer, Jay Patry, that came to the rescue this year,” Blackmore said of how the new warming centre came to be. “He’s been extremely generous with reduced rent costs, and the United Way KFL&A and the City are stepping up to help us with operating costs, as well.”

Blackmore explained that Lionhearts Inc. will be providing their meals-to-go service at the warming centre nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. into the new year. This service will be provided to “the whole community,” he expressed.

“We know there are some other meal providers who will take a very much-needed break during that time, so we’re working with them to bridge the gap,” Blackmore expressed.

After the meal service, Lionhearts Inc. will open the warming centre, in partnership with Kingston Street Mission. The two agencies partnered in the aforementioned meal service program at Stages last winter.

“We’ll be serving hot food, and providing warm winter clothing, hygiene supplies, and community in a safe space, with the possibility of more services in the future,” Blackmore said.

While the official news release from the local United Way on the opening of the warming centre stated that it will “stay open until morning,” Blackmore further explained that this aspect of the centre’s operations is still in the works.

“This is the part we’re still working on,” he said when asked if patrons will be allowed to sleep at the warming centre overnight.

“We have found the space, and now we need the help. We’ve been so fortunate to have such committed volunteers lead the charge thus far. With all of the extra COVID protocols, and the desire to expand to a full overnight program, that will be a stretch for even the most committed volunteers,” he communicated, noting that Lionhearts Inc. is working on a partnership with other service providers to see who might be able to help, and that they are hoping to have the details ironed out “very soon.”

“This is a huge priority right now we and wanted this to be opening sooner. The need is great, and so are the challenges to get an indoor program started right now. We so appreciate everyone who is pitching in to make it happen.”

Another important aspect of the warming centre will be connecting clients there with other services and social support agencies, something Lionhearts has been committed to throughout the many programs the organization has provided.

“We’ve always worked with our program guests to connect them to resources within the community. Sometimes it’s help filing for replacement ID or doing their taxes, sometimes it’s a referral to housing or shelter services, sometimes it’s medical referrals, and sometimes it’s simply arranging for rides to important appointments,” Blackmore expressed.

Marilyn McLean is the Executive Director for the Kingston Street Mission and a retired nurse. She’s been leading that organization as a volunteer for almost a decade. In our mind… she truly is a saint. She knows where the resources are out there, and we’ve been building partnerships with other agencies to effectively connect people.”

From a background operational perspective, all of the programs will be volunteer-led, Blackmore said in response to whether those working at the warming center will be in paid positions. The overnight position has yet to be determined, he noted.

And the help from those able to give it is deeply appreciated, Blackmore explained with candour.

“There is a deep need in our community right now. We are so fortunate to have found space to operate through the winter months. We are extremely grateful to the partners and donors who will give us the opportunity to start life-saving programs, and create community for our neighbours who could really use some help,” he illuminated, adding that none of their efforts would be fruitful without the tireless aid of volunteers.

“To anyone who has concern for the well-being of those without shelter this winter: We welcome your help.”

For more information on Lionhearts Inc., including ways to help out with their programs, visit their website here.

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