Agencies open extra shelter space as frigid air hits London, Ont.

02 Feb 2023 | Canada | 142 |
Agencies open extra shelter space as frigid air hits London, Ont.

As London, Ont., endures its coldest week so far this year, the city’s winter response is being put to the test as it looks to provide indoor space for those living outside.

The seasonal program looks to provide extra accommodations for those experiencing homelessness and this year’s edition is being led by London Cares Homeless Response Services.

Details of the latest winter response were unveiled in November, which promised to support nearly 400 people daily, an effort aided by a $5-million commitment from the city.

London Cares executive director Anne Armstrong says extra space is being made available across local agencies this week, adding that she recently reached out to community partners as the cold weather drew near.

“Agencies have gotten back to me saying, ‘yes, we can open this many beds, yes, we’re preparing,'” Armstrong said.

Mission Services of London’s Men’s Mission opened an additional 10 beds on Tuesday night, Ark Aid Street Mission is opening another 15 beds and other shelters have protocols for opening extra beds, if needed, according to Armstrong.

Armstrong says London Cares will open up more spots at its own Resting Space, a service that provides overnight and daytime spaces where folks can get rest, a warm meal, clean clothing and housing-focused supports.

Elsewhere, the newly-opened Community Hub, a partnership between London Cares, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection and the Thames Valley Family Health Team, will extend its daytime space capacity to allow an additional 10 people to come inside and warm up.

Should a cold weather alert arrive, Armstrong says outreach teams will be doing extra work to provide help to those living in encampments or elsewhere outdoors.

“Everyone has just extended to the capacity that they very possibly can because we know people are hurting outside and need to get inside,” Armstrong said.

“We’re all faced with some of the challenges that every other sector faces — some staffing illness or staffing shortages — but we’re doing everything we can to make as much space as possible.”

Armstrong is hopeful that concerns about shelter space during hazardous weather events will soon become a thing of the past.

Her optimism is tethered to the city’s upcoming plan to combat homelessness, which is born out of meetings between the Health and Homelessness Summit, a group compromised of more than 200 Londoners representing dozens of local organizations.

A local anonymous family has put $25 million to the plan and has offered another $5 million if a community fundraising campaign can match that amount.

Last month, during his State of the City Address, Mayor Josh Morgan said the plan would provide a “permanent and sustainable system” to help those experiencing homelessness.

“We know that our current system is stretched beyond capacity now and that we need more resources, so I’m really thrilled to see the new system being developed,” Armstrong said.

The summit’s plan will be presented to city councillors on Feb. 28.

In the meantime, local agencies are looking to the public for help when it comes to providing clients with winter-related items.

“Extra blankets, extra hats, extra-warm mitts, boots, hand-warmers — anything that will help keep someone warm is so much appreciated,” Armstrong added.

If someone is unsure where to drop items off, Armstrong says donations can be given to the Community Hub at 602 Queens Ave., where staff will then distribute items to whichever agency could use it the most.

by 980 CFPL