For 12 cold nights between Christmas and New Year’s Day, volunteers with the Grassroots Homelessness Coalition set up their pop-up warming centre on Fourth Avenue for anyone on the street needing some warmth.
When the trailer volunteers use to make soup and coffee and store warm and dry clothing got snowed in by a pair of snowstorms, it stayed safely in the spare lot beside the Port Alberni Friendship Center. Three days after owner Lisa George was able to move it to a temporary location at Sixth Avenue and Bute Street, though, the trailer was ransacked and vandalized.
Everything from the trailer battery to propane tanks and fire pits, warm jackets, mitts and hats, coffee and hand sanitizer was gone.
“Over $5,000 worth of stuff has been stolen, right down to the paper bowls we serve soup in,” George said.
George called the police and said there is a file number for the theft. She had to have all four tires replaced, and while the trailer was insured, she was waiting to find out exactly what else would be covered.
The whole experience has been disheartening, she said. “After a year and a half of advocating and fighting for the most vulnerable and under-serviced population, we get this.”
George and a small group of volunteers first began advocating for people during a protest outside Our Home on Eighth shelter in October 2020. They formed the coalition and worked toward becoming an official society, which they achieved in 2021. They received approval from Port Alberni City Council a few months ago to hold the pop-up warming centres and cooperate with other advocacy groups to ensure people living rough know where they can go for a warm drink or bowl of soup when the nights get cold.
Anyone wishing to know what the coalition needs can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call George at 250-735-1275.
The widespread theft from the trailer means the pop-up warming centres are finished for now. “They’re not going to happen anymore; we have nothing,” George said.
It doesn’t mean the coalition will cease helping people. “There are way more people that are vulnerable that need our help,” she said. “One or two people that think this behaviour is OK will not deter us from assisting the rest.”