Emergency overnight shelter opens at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
An overnight emergency shelter has opened at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Kitchener.
The shelter, which is a partnership between the church, The Working Centre and the Region of Waterloo, opened in the church's multi-purpose area on Sunday evening.
"St. Andrew’s has a lengthy tradition of reaching out to those in need outside our doors, in keeping with our faith and beliefs," said Bob Courtney, a member of the church's Local Mission Initiatives committee, in a news release. "I am humbled to see how our community has again rallied on short notice to be hosts."
It will be able to provide shelter for 50 community members and in some circumstances allow for additional capacity.
“This is a vital project that provides a seven day a week evening shelter that combines staffing and community volunteers," said Joe Mancini, director of The Working Centre. "This cooperative model will expand shelter options during the cold winter nights.”
The release said the shelter spaces are an interim step to help with the sharp increase in unsheltered homelessness in Waterloo Region.
Last month, the region reported the number of individuals experiencing homelessness rose to 1,085, which is a 225 per cent increase from 333 people in 2018. It also showed that 412 people were living in encampments, in cars or on the streets.
“We are grateful for the continued collaboration with community partners to add shelter spaces and services for those experiencing homelessness across our community," Regional Chair Karen Redman said in the release.
According to Chris McEvoy, the manager of housing policy and homelessness prevention for the region, there are 379 adult emergency shelter beds in the system.
“We monitor that occupancy and capacity data on a daily basis to ensure that there are as many spaces as possible,” he explained.
Reverend Marty Molengraaf said the uptick in homelessness captured by the region’s report sparked action at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.
Plans were in place for the temporary shelter within weeks.
“To be part of a group of people who were able to see beyond the challenges and problems and difficulties – that’s a powerful experience, a humbling experience,” said Rev. Molengraaf.
On the first night 41 people stayed at the shelter, followed by 45 on Monday.
Rev. Molengraaf said both nights have gone well.
While proud to help those in need, he knows the shelter is only a short-term fix for a long-term problem.
“The fact that homelessness, or people living in the rough, continues to be a big part of our winter experience here in Canada needs to change,” Rev. Molengraaf said. “Whatever it is that needs to change to make sure that people have a place to find home that is secure and year-round, that’s what needs to be done.”
Staff from The Working Centre will work on the front lines at the shelter, with volunteers offering ancillary services like meal services, clean up and sorting donations. Fully vaccinated volunteers are asked to sign up for shifts from 6 to 9 a.m. or 6 to 9 p.m. by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations drop offs can be arranged by contacting the same email address.