Kitchener homeless shelter scheduled to close

Ray of Hope is a community shelter that is subject to closure. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

Ray of Hope is a community shelter that is subject to closure. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

Some of Waterloo’s homeless may lose a place to stay at night as the Kitchener-Waterloo Out of the Cold (OTC) program announced the intention to close one of its sites.

As many as 80 homeless people in the Region could be affected by this closure.

Ray of Hope, the site which is at risk of closing, operates in Kitchener typically from November to April.  It offers overnight housing and a meal every Tuesday night for those who seek shelter.

Harry Whyte, the CEO of Ray of Hope, explained that the homeless shelter is closing due to renovations and an unforeseen extension of the purpose of the building.

“The big challenge for us was that we were going ahead to renovate our building to expand our primary service of providing meals for those in need,” he said. “If we were to make this facility a shelter, that’s good for the 80 people sleeping here, but it makes it harder to serve 200 other people coming here for meals.”

OTC was created in 1999 as a temporary program for homeless citizens.

“I think short-term, as we move towards a construction start, we’re going to try to keep the program going,” he added. “But that may be only for 50 people and long term other facilities have to be used.”

The ending of Out of the Cold’s Tuesday night services illuminates a larger issue of homelessness in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
Research has shown that, in the past few years, the amount of people seeking assistance from emergency shelter facilities has been steadily increasing.

“We have seen a significant increase in people using emergency shelters,” said Van Vilaysinh, the manager of social planning for the Region of Waterloo social services department.

From 2008 to 2012, Vilaysinh saw an overall 224 per cent increase in the number of people using the regional government-operated shelters.

“We’ve also seen an increase of 29 per cent in families accessing these shelters,” she added. “You’re not seeing the stereotypical single men seeking shelter, you’re seeing families who have used up all their resources, and have to fall back on emergency shelters.”

Both the Region of Waterloo and the community as a whole are making a valiant effort to combat homelessness in the area. The municipality has created many programs  providing rent assistance and energy assistance. In addition, organizations continue to offer meal services, shelters and food banks to assist those in our community seeking help.

“We have responded very comprehensively and collaboratively, involving many social service agencies,” said Region of Waterloo councilor Sean Strickland.

With the lingering effects of the 2009 recession still impacting the Region, Strickland offered his sympathy for those who are faced with homelessness.
He asks that the community do the same.

“Try your best not to be judgmental of that person asking for bus change on the corner”, Strickland said.

“You don’t know what happened in their lives to create the situation they’re in.”

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