Windsor Fire reverses order; temporarily allows overnight stay at homeless centre

Hours after ordering occupants out, Windsor Fire and Rescue Services has temporarily allowed the Street Help Homeless Centre to act as a shelter Friday night.

Centre staff will receive 'condensed' safety training

Windsor Fire and Rescue Services Deputy Chief Andrea DeJong has a tense discussion with Street Help Homeless Centre volunteer Anthony Nelson. The fire department initially said people could not stay at the centre overnight, but later relented. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Hours after ordering occupants out, Windsor fire officials temporarily allowed the Street Help Homeless Centre to act as a shelter Friday night.

"We're going to do a very condensed version of what they're required to have legally to operate as a shelter," said Deputy Chief Andrea Dejong, adding that the lights need to stay on tonight and the door can't be locked.

Centre director Christine Wilson-Furlonger said Windsor Fire and Rescue Services placed an order on the building this afternoon stating it is not licensed to be a shelter and the people staying there must leave.

"The building is not licensed as a shelter and it's not approved for use as a shelter. It is not a shelter, it's an outreach centre," explained Chief Fire Prevention Officer John Lee.

The centre was facing a fine of up to $50,000.

Not willing to let people 'freeze to death'

Wilson-Furlonger said she was not willing to "let people freeze to death" and encouraged staff at the centre to resist the order.

Nelson refused to force the men sleeping at the centre to leave, despite facing a fine up to $50,000. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

But Lee insisted that was not what was happening.

"I don't think people are being put out in the cold. Three other shelters were identified where there is availability for people to go. Housing services is aware of the situation as well."

Anthony Nelson, a volunteer at Street Help, said 14 people had slept there Thursday.

Here's how Street Help and Windsor Fire handled the situation. 2:49

Officials from Windsor Fire and Rescue Services arrived around 7 p.m. and said the men could not stay the night, and suggested sending them to a "proper shelter."

No one left.

Windsor-Essex is under an extreme cold warning with temperatures overnight expected to feel like –35 C with the windchill.

Shelters across the city have been at or over capacity in recent weeks as an extreme cold snap has stretched on.

DeJong said people could stay at the centre Friday night, but the conditions were just temporary. Her department plans to follow up with the centre next week to ensure staff has proper safety training and equipment.

The fire department agreed to let people sleep overnight at the centre Friday on the condition staff undergo a condensed version of fire safety training. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Nelson said he was happy the people who come to the centre will have somewhere warm to sleep.

"I'm happy that they got the chance to sleep here," he added. "This is their home, this is where they want to be, this is where they feel safe."

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