Church opens its doors during colder weather

Photo by Nirupam Singh


On Jan. 9, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo approved a temporary overnight flexible space for emergency shelter overflow at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Kitchener.

Operated nightly by the House of Friendship, the church will be providing overflow flexible space beginning around the end of the month until April 30, 2018.

St. Matthew’s Church will be able to accommodate up to 70 adults nightly and will run from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.

“We’re opening the space and allowing House of Friendship to run this warming centre program,” Pastor Sebastian Meadows-Helmer from St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church said. “We’re opening our doors.”

The recent overflow of Waterloo shelters has been a result of the temperatures in Southern Ontario dropping dangerously low. The recent low temperatures have increased the number of people seeking the indoors during this winter season.

Shelters have repeatedly reached capacity over the past few months and have redirected overflow into motel rooms. The average cost for a motel bed is approximately 43 dollars and is manageable when the motel option does not have to be used on a regular basis.

However, according to the Region of Waterloo report, this option becomes costly and unsustainable when numbers are regularly over capacity for several months of the winter.

St. Matthew’s Church and the House of Friendship have provided an alternative flexible space for those in need, which will be funded by the Region of Waterloo to accommodate the overflow in the coming winter months.

The St. Matthew’s space will be cost-effective at 85,800 dollars as opposed to motel rooms which could cost up to 290,000 dollars according to the region’s report.

“I think that partnerships are the way of the future for helping people in need. None of us can often do it on our own but working together with others who have different resources, it is possible to put something together.”

“It’s really a creative idea that’s not necessarily about shelter, it’s about trying to offer support overnight and after hours that is open to come and go as you please,” Terry Nease, housing support worker and supervisor, said.

A focus of the church space will be to provide services needed for the homeless, though services provided have yet to be determined.

Accommodations at St. Matthew’s will feature a flexible drop-in option which allows people to sleep, stay awake, or come and go without a curfew. The church is in proximity to existing emergency shelters and other community services making transportation more manageable.

“It helps to have one stable facility people can access every night [so] there is no confusion around ‘where can I go tonight?’” Nease said.

In addition, the St. Matthew’s space will be operated by an experienced emergency shelter and trained staff for services to support the population.

“It’s a short-term aid for people in the street who need to stay warm, the bigger problem is getting a long-term plan and funding for more shelters and supportive housing,” Meadows-Helmer said.

This partnership hopes to benefit the population with a warm space and services for those in need, in a new and creative way for the KW Region.

“One of the most important parts of this project, really, is the community effort,” Nease said. “[Everybody] coming together with ideas, I think that is what you want in a community especially when you’re trying to provide services. It’s been eye-opening.”

Until 2014, many churches in the KW area hosted an Out of the Cold (OOTC) program until the region streamlined the shelter services available and the OOTC program closed.

The region’s report states that this flexible space is not reviving the previous OOTC model but is instead a temporary seasonal option to manage overflow when emergency shelters reach capacity and an alternative to motel rooms.

“We have a space that has been used as an overnight shelter so we figured this is a good partnership opportunity,” Meadows-Helmer said. “We worked with House of Friendship before and have a lot of respect for their abilities working with the needy in the KW community.”

The flexible space at St. Matthew’s will be an option for those in need and an opportunity for services to understand what the population needs after hours and how that can be provided.

“I think that partnerships are the way of the future for helping people in need,” Meadows-Helmer said. “None of us can often do it on our own but working together with others who have different resources, it is possible to put something together.”

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