Complexities of keeping homeless out of the cold

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.

This entry was posted in Homelessness, Low-Cost Housing, Vibrant Downtown. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Complexities of keeping homeless out of the cold

  1. Maurice Dyson says:

    There is a large unused space right downtown. Part of it could be closed in and converted. The Parking garage on Charles and Benton never has more than two of it’s Six floors in use. A lot of energy is used to keep it illuminated all night. Make better use of this current waste.

  2. B.S. says:

    “Waterloo Region could end up with one or more people freezing to death on our streets this winter.” – let alone City of Kitchener itself, specifically. Especially downtown, as that is apparently where the largest contingent of the Homeless / OOTC guests tend to be.

  3. Anita Nickerson says:

    Thanks for this, Frank. The problems seems to be when people don’t realize that you can’t force homeless people into a service box. It is fabulous when our shelters and the services they offer improve to help more people. But if there are a group of people who are still not being reached by those services for whatever reason, then we need to look at how we can keep them alive. Tonight I attended the 8 yr clean time anniversary of one such person who is schizophrenic, abuse survivor, and literally lived on the streets, seriously addicted to crack cocaine, for 30 years. Professionals and the legal system declared him hopeless and basically some just wanted him out of their hair because he couldn’t follow through with any structured plan more than 5 minutes in duration. Today he’s a walking miracle, working, volunteering, living a very productive life and helping others constantly. If he hadn’t had places to sleep like an Out of the Cold program on some of those 30 below nights, he might not be here today. Funding somewhere with a bed on a floor is not extravagant – people’s lives are worth it.

    • B.S. says:

      Agreed, however, with OOTC’s disappearing, the problem then appears to be where can they go – and only government has the resources to so provide. (Too much for any one other organization to sustain, and load spread across the entire population.) This is the problem with the Region’s statements of capacity – they may have the space, but they have not been convincing that the space will be utilized, nor that they will apply resources to permit all that you say for the duration necessary for such recoveries to occur.

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