Calgary’s first Indigenous warming center opened its doors Monday, giving the city’s homeless population another facility to seek shelter from the elements.
However, what is different about the Calgary Aboriginal Friendship Center site, at 4628 16th Avenue NW, is that it will serve the unique cultural and spiritual needs of the city’s Indigenous communities.
Shane Gauthier, executive director of Calgary’s Aboriginal Friendship Center (AFC), said the warming center was built incredibly quickly, just three weeks after the idea first came up in conversation.
He said the space, which is connected to the AFC Senior Drop-In Center in Montgomery, is part of an ongoing partnership with the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
The site previously housed the AFC vaccination clinic, which Gauthier said was in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and 2022.
But the space has remained largely dormant since then, and he said the AFC realized there was an opportunity to reinvent the facility as a warming center to help the homeless.
“Calgary’s vulnerable people, especially Indigenous people, need a safe place to spread out, talk to elders and a place to build community and gather,” Gauthier said.
“But in the spirit of reconciliation, this place is open for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to also enjoy our programs and services.”
The warm shelter includes a few separate rooms and can accommodate 15 to 20 people.
“We want a place where people can come and have coffee or tea and talk to elders and each other,” Gauthier said. “It’s a place with dignity.”
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The warming center will initially be open seven days a week, from 9am to 5pm. The AFC facility in Montgomery is staffed with two or three people at all times, Gauthier said, and includes security cameras.
While this is the first facility of its kind in Calgary, Gauthier said the AFC will assess public demand before considering establishing a second warming center in the future.
Kainai Blood Tribe elder Jackie Bromley led a smudging ceremony and group prayer on Monday. She believes the warming center will provide an important place for some of the city’s Indigenous residents to reconnect with their culture.
“A lot of our people are very disconnected from our culture,” he said. “Their spirits have abandoned them.
“This… will be a good place for people to sit, visit and get to know each other.”
He added that the warming center can also provide visitors with the opportunity to learn the seven sacred teachings of Blackfoot culture: respect, humility, love, truth, honesty, wisdom and courage.
“If we follow those teachings, we will live in peace and harmony,” he said.