WATERLOO -- Kitchener’s House of Friendship announced Friday that it will be temporarily closing its shelter and discontinuing its services while working to find a new permanent location.

The announcement comes only days after a survey shows Homelessness is at an all-time high in Waterloo Region.

David Gay, who is now living independently, credits his success to the House of Friendship.

“They are a life boat, they are life saver and now that lifesaver, that life boat is not there for the current residents on the streets right now," he said.

After losing his tech job during a recent recession, and experiencing homelessness, Gay stayed at the House of Friendship on Charles Street in Kitchener, where there are about 12 beds.

When that location outgrew itself, residents moved to the Inn of Waterloo . But after a fire in February, they moved again to a hotel in Guelph, where the lease is now coming to an end Nov. 30.

House of Friendship Executive Director John Neufeld says the hotel is “no longer available at the end of this month.”

Shelter staff will be temporarily laid off but will still be offered benefits until they can reopen.

Neufeld says they've been searching for a new home since the fire in February, describing it as difficult and demoralizing process.

Neufeld says some of the people they service have complex medical needs.

“We are serving a population that is highly unwell, they are unwanted. And so to find a location is really challenging.”

He says they have faced a few hardships when searching for property such as, “the kind of building, or the neighbourhood, or the zoning in the particular municipality.”

Neufeld added that they are currently working with the government to secure a permanent home to house and service up to 100 people.

At this point, he says they are getting close to confirming a new location but are unable to share details publicly.

He hopes they will be able to confirm the location by the new year and open their doors again by February.

“That is really the goal. To find a stable environment for the individuals we serve and also for our team members,” Neufeld said.

According to a recent survey, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Waterloo Region has tripled over the last three years.

A “point-in-time” account done in 2018 showed 333 people. The 2021 survey completed in September showed 1,085 people were experiencing some form of homelessness in Waterloo Region, and 673 of those people considered themselves to be the "hidden homeless," meaning they living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or institutions.

Neufeld says 75 men are currently by the House of Friendship in the Guelph hotel. 

As of now, they are still working to confirm where they will go come December first.

Unavailable for an interview, Region of Waterloo Manager of Housing Policy and Homelessness Prevention, Chris McEvoy said in a statement,

“Housing staff continue to work with House of Friendship and our local shelter providers to find permanent housing or secure spaces within our shelter system. This includes transportation from Guelph for the 75 men currently supported by the House of Friendship.”

Neufeld says they are working with other shelters and organizations in the area to find as many open spots for the men as possible.

“We will be doing everything that we can to help our shelter partners at House of Friendship find emergency shelter for their residents.  Everyone is working towards this as it will be very cold, very soon," said Anne Tinker with The Bridges in Cambridge.

Gay warns anyone can find themselves experiencing homelessness even if they don’t expect it.

“I was a person who had an I.T. career for 20 years, I do not have a criminal record, I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink.”

He looks back and is glad he didn’t need the help of  House of Friendship during a pandemic, realizing the virus would have made the process that much more difficult, as he spoke about less couch surfing options being available during lockdowns.

“I am saddened that [The House of Friendship] is not around anymore, at least for two or three months.”

He believes the entire social services system needs more support.

“I think the cracks are starting to show in the shut down,” Gay explained.