It’s a troubling and potentially tragic disconnect.
Waterloo Region has numerous homeless people who survive the coldest nights of winter by either sleeping at emergency shelters or going to Out of the Cold programs at local churches in search of food and beds.
Out of the Cold is now in trouble with four sites closing their doors because of a variety of issues. And the unrealistic response to closures seems to be that this is a positive development because it means street people will go to emergency shelters.
That’s the disconnect.
Well-meaning regional and city officials who talk about the need for affordable housing can’t accept that, for a variety of complex behavioral, mental health and addiction issues, the hard-core homeless who take advantage of welcoming Out of the Cold services will never go to established emergency shelters. Also, without extensive intervention services, they often have little interest in conventional housing even if it is available.
So, as difficult as it is for us to face the fact, these walking wounded could end up sleeping in doorways or dumpsters and that’s what became obvious when about 50 homeless people and Out of the Cold supporters came to council earlier this week.
Frustrated by the fact social services are a regional-government responsibility, Kitchener councillors followed up on a motion I presented in April that involved having city staff try to find a way to help Out of the Cold meet its needs.
After hearing seven delegates express passionate and often tragic stories, councillors voted to invite regional officials to come to our Sept. 8 committee meeting to see if a task force of social workers, city and regional staff and some of the homeless can be formed to find solutions.
As task force members scrutinize the issue, I hope they pay particular attention to that small group of street people who are at most risk because they reject conventional shelters.
To reach those people, the region needs to expand its outreach services in order to build trusting relationships required to help troubled people transition from the streets to some form of basic shelter where they will continue to need a variety of support services in order to improve their lives.
We ignore that issue at our peril because, if we continue to cover our eyes to the problem, Waterloo Region could end up with one or more people freezing to death on our streets this winter.