To most people May 1 will be a typical day: you may get up to go to work, do some errands, visit family, or follow some other regular routines. However for over two thousand people in Kitchener-Waterloo this is the start of a six month challenge to find a regular, safe place to sleep. April 30th is the last night the Out of the Cold program, which is hosted by various churches in the region, will be open until November. To mark the end of these churches providing emergency shelter and meals, the Kitchener Downtown Community Center organizes an event called “Sleepless Night” to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness. To test your understanding of some of the homelessness issues, click here or here.
During the next six months, many of the homeless individuals and families that have accessed Out of the Cold will be relying on other shelters, community meal services, and emergency food hampers for basic survival. Those who seek emergency shelter will be hoping to get the same wake up calls for work that they got from Out of the Cold; or that there are enough beds for them to have a safe, warm place to sleep. Others will anxiously wait in a long line-up to hope that there will be enough dinner plates for the crowd until they can reach the front of the line. And a few will turn to emergency food hamper programs to receive a few items of food so they may have a quiet meal on their own.
Homelessness and Emergency Food Hampers
With one less meal program available some patrons will turn to emergency food hamper program to receive a few items of food. When a patron informs us that they are homeless, this may alter the type of hamper we have to offer. If they’re able to temporarily stay with friends or family, we can offer a regular food hamper - as they have access to a fridge and cooking facilities. However it does come up from time to time that people are living in tents or simply finding anywhere to sleep on the streets. In this case, the hamper is generally limited to non-perishable products such as cans with pop tab lids that are easy to open and ready to eat. Patrons without any roof over their head are leery of accepting any fresh vegetables and fruits or meat as these food items may attract animals, making it unsafe to sleep at night. So, for example, instead of receiving fresh vegetables in a hamper we’ll provide them with a supply of canned vegetables as a safer alternative.
Substituting canned foods in a hamper are helpful but present a challenge of their own to homeless patrons because it is difficult to carry a large amount of food with them. As these patrons are likely carrying all their belongings with them in a back pack or cart, this leaves a limited amount of space to store a large amount of canned foods. However even with a lot of space to store canned foods, they likely have a limited amount of energy or strength to constantly carry everything around with them.
Carrying a lot of canned foods can be a burden, but accessing food programs can also relieve a burden. When a homeless patron receives a food hamper this can be the beginning of a connection to other resources. Being given connections or referrals to other resources may be new to many patrons as most shelter and meal programs simply only have the energy, time or funding to deal with the day-to-day basics of food and shelter rather than long-term assistance and support.
How closing Out of the Cold affects the Charles Street Mens Hostel
The Mens Hostel operates all year round to provide short-term shelter and nutritious meals for those in need, similar to the Out of the Cold program. Two of the main differences between the Mens Hostel and Out of the Cold are that the Mens Hostel conducts an intake or registration process, and the Mens Hostel encourages patrons to work with a case worker. These changes become evident during the six months that Out of the Cold closes, when the Mens Hostel sees a spike in demand for shelter and services like meals.
Out of the Cold generally calculates the number of patrons who come in each night by counting heads; where as the Mens Hostel completes a longer intake procedure to collects a patron’s name and some more in depth information. So when Out of the Cold ends, the patrons that choose to use emergency shelters are faced with new protocols to receive a warm bed at the end of the night. Out of the Cold patrons generally prefer to keep their anonymity; so Hostel caseworkers are presented with a new and somewhat more challenging group of men to support. Instead of simply providing a place to rest your head at the end of the night, and some food throughout the day, the Hostels’ caseworkers want to support patrons in obtaining social assistance, permanent housing, and steady employment.
The caseworkers at the Hostel provide patrons with a supportive system to establish goals and tasks to complete that will improve their circumstances and get them off the streets. For many of the patrons who used Out of the Cold, this is not their cup of tea. Many use emergency shelters to escape a cold night on the street, but aren’t necessarily interested in working with someone to find permanent housing and a steady employment. However the Hostel caseworkers are not quitters! Most times these patrons have come to a hostel for a place to sleep, and don’t expect to find someone who is willing to help them, so absorbing this shock takes some time. And the dedicated staff understand the struggle people face with making dramatic changes in their life, so they allow these patrons a few extra days to warm up to the idea of working with a stranger.
When the Out of the Cold program closes many people are still left struggling. Many volunteers and donations have helped take care of them for a few months, to which the patrons are grateful. But as a society we need to remember that when the cold is out of the way, these people are not – they’re still out there looking for a helping hand.