The COVID 19 pandemic has exposed cracks in social safety nets and this has been particularly true for people experiencing homelessness. It’s one thing for governments to tell people to stay home, but how do you do that when you don’t have a home?
The issue of homelessness is growing around the world, and Southern Georgian Bay is no exception. In its first 10 months of operation, the 12-bed program, Out of The Cold Collingwood, has sheltered 70 participants representing over 2000 “bed nights.” They have provided over 4,000 meals and has made over 700 connections to other community support services.
Originally intended to be a regional overnight program only for the coldest months from December to April, the program temporarily pivoted to a full-time shelter operation in March as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. Program participants are currently housed in a local hotel where they are able to safely self-isolate, 24/7 while accessing the wrap around services that assist them in moving from unsheltered to permanent housing whenever possible.
People enter into homelessness due to a diverse variety of reasons that may include mental or physical health issues, addictions, abuse and poverty. There are people living outdoors and in other precarious situations. Most are suffering dehydration, food insecurity, health issues and exposure as cold weather sets in.
“Everyone deserves a home and many of our participants are ready to thrive on their own but where do they go?” asked task force Chairperson, Marg Scheben-Edey.
This wide-spread issue is causing shelters to operate at their full capacities while a growing number of people are experiencing homelessness with limited options left to turn to.
The supply of affordable housing is virtually non-existent and social housing has waiting lists of ten years or more. Despite this, the program has had some success in moving participants into permanent housing. Scheben-Edey says that the regional community has been incredibly supportive in helping them to find things needed to give people a new start. They recently started a Welcome Home Hamper program that provides newly housed individuals with basic essentials such as cleaning, hygiene and first-aid supplies that would otherwise be out of financial reach for participants.
“The reality is that without creating a needed supply of supportive and subsidized housing, we are throwing a single bucket of water on a warehouse fire that keeps burning. This is no longer just a critical situation, it is an urgent crisis that must be dealt with” said Scheben-Edey. A feasibility study is now underway to determine if a permanent shelter is required in the area but she states that access to housing and housing subsidies is needed right now.
To learn more about the Out of The Cold program and ways you can help, follow them on Facebook or view their website at www.outofthecoldcollingwood.com