KEEPING THE WARM ZONE: Three years of pilot project funding almost dry

Warm Zone coordinator Michel Giordano says the centre would be a huge loss to the community if forced to close. - News file photo
Warm Zone coordinator Michel Giordano says the centre would be a huge loss to the community if forced to close.
— image credit: News file photo

The women who have been operating The Warm Zone are looking for ways to keep their doors open to women living on the streets in Abbotsford.

Federal funding of $93,000 per year for the three-year pilot project will run out next month, and the lease on their building in downtown Abbotsford near Jubilee Park expires on March 31.

It has been a success, says Michel Giordano, coordinator of the Warm Zone for the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley. The centre has been visited by people from other cities wanting to set up similar facilities.

“We’re a template for all of Canada.”

When the project started, operators anticipated seeing about 30 women per month, but they now get 30 to 40 different women dropping in daily. They can get some sleep, make themselves something to eat in the kitchen, have a shower and do their laundry. There is a computer station, as well as art supplies, personal lockers and counselling rooms.

One client said it is her “home away from no home.”

Many of their clients are homeless, drug-addicted and work in the sex trade. At any given time, there are 120 to 130 “street engaged” women in the city, Zone staff say.

Giordano said the Warm Zone treats clients with respect, and offers help in a non-judgmental fashion.

“It isn’t an ‘us’ and ‘them’ environment, it’s a ‘we’ environment,” said Giordano. “We’re just women supporting women.”

A second-year review document offers many comments from clients. A typical response indicates a woman comes to the Warm Zone to use the washroom, phone family members, get free needles, use crafts to make a card for her friend, and access a FoodSafe course. And best about the program: “The acknowledgement that I really do exist. They let me know that I’m important and I matter, when I don’t think I do.”

Giordano said fatalities among these women have been eliminated, and pregnancies are significantly down.

“There are some women who I know for certain wouldn’t be alive today if we weren’t here,” she said.

The Warm Zone has become a place that is used by a variety of agencies to contact people living on the streets, including probation, parole and police officers and mental health workers. It is a place where medical services can be offered, such as HIV testing.

On March 6, Mayor Bruce Banman and city manager Frank Pizzuto will tour the building, and the city will consider a request from the Women’s Resource Society to provide a new space.

Giordano will also be soliciting funding from the provincial government and various sources.

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