Out of the Cold program struggling

Photo by Nick Lachance

Photo by Nick Lachance

Kitchener-Waterloo’s Out of the Cold program, a series of locations working together to offer the region’s homeless a safe place to sleep during the winter months, has been struggling through the past year. The program has lost five host sites since last winter and has experienced trouble trying to recruit new host sites or volunteers.

Ray of Hope, a Christian-based centre situated in Kitchener that focuses on offering aid services to the region’s disadvantaged, marginalized or troubled, was the first location to opt out of hosting Out of the Cold. Ray of Hope, which facilitates nightly hot meals for those in need through the winter, could not accommodate the renovations that were necessary to continue on as part of the program.
Instead, it opted to continue serving meals to the large amount of people who regularly show during the winter months.

“We were the first group last fall that had to make a decision not to continue this year,” said Harry Whyte, CEO of Ray of Hope.

“Our expectation is that with Out of the Cold closing, instead of people going to other locations to have dinner, they’ll be coming here first before heading to the Y, on the nights that the Y is open.”

The YWCA, referred to as the Y, has been supporting efforts to bolster other safe places for homeless to stay in the region. The YWCA, traditionally only operating shelter services for women, trans persons and families, will now operate a new, 50-person shelter that also will care for homeless men.

The new emergency shelter, staffed with people who are well versed in harm-reduction strategy and experience in working with mental health issues, will be open nightly starting in November going through to May.

Other facilities still affiliated with Out of The Cold will be remaining open. One such facility, St. Louis Catholic Church in Waterloo, will continue its 15-year relationship with the organization.

“We want to try and have relationships that we have built up with homeless people, and various volunteers at St. Louis Out of The Cold have built relationships,” said Keith Schnarr, co-coordinator of St. Louis Out of the Cold.

“The region and the YWCA have told us these relationships are very important and can help the YWCA and other agencies around help get people into sustainable housing.”

Overall, the message that is coming through during the loss of Out of the Cold is that emergency shelters and volunteer services are not permanent solutions for the homeless persons of the region.

“We weren’t going to continue to perpetuate what was happening with Out of the Cold, and hopefully keep moving the community towards long term solutions,” said Whyte.

“It was a pretty complicated decision process for us, but I feel good about where the community is headed right now. It’s good to see the region getting involved and putting more resources into supporting those people.”

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