FORT FRANCES — More than $2 million has been spent to convert a vacant church into a warming centre in Fort Frances.
The former church, located on Victoria Avenue, has been repurposed to a shelter that's being expanded by the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board through its CARE program.
“This is sort of the first stage of getting people off the street and giving them somewhere safe to stay overnight,” board CAO Dan McCormick said.
McCormack said the work on the property has been a step-by-step project, rather than a one-time rebuild.
“If we were to do this project as a one-time, all-out [build], you would probably be looking at close to $4-5 million to renovate that building,” McCormick said.
“This is inside of a long-term solution to the problem.”
McCormick said alternatives, like renting a motel for 24 people for six weeks, would cost nearly $40,000. A permanent building makes sense, he added.
The main floor serves as the warming centre, where people are welcome to stay the night and get out of the cold.
The site has five safe beds, through a program run by the Canadian Mental Health Association, which are for people experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis.
Future plans for the warming centre include transitional housing units, which would available for people to stay up for two years while they move toward permanent housing.
“That gives them an opportunity to build some life skills, get an education, whatever they need during their life course,” McCormick said.
“The benefit to the community is big time, getting the people off the street, hopefully redirecting some of them in life. We know we are not going to get everybody, but if you can get one or two out of five, you are making a big improvement in somebody’s life and in the community."
While the warming centre is open for the winter, work is ongoing ot complete the transitional housing area.