January 3, 2018 9:04 pm

Deep freeze means homeless shelters still need donations of warm winter clothing

FILE - Shelters are drawing plenty of people in during the day when the facilities double as the city's warming centres.

Shelby Thom/Global News
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The city’s homeless population is top of mind, as London remains caught in Mother Nature’s icy grip.

But as people’s thoughts turn to whether everyone in the city has a warm place to sleep at night, local advocates say the occupancy rate at many shelters is pretty consistent throughout the entire year.

READ MORE: Deep freeze in London prompts alert from Middlesex-London Health Unit


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Chuck Lazenby, the executive director of the Unity Project, says the 24/7 shelter isn’t filling more beds during the cold spell — but they’re drawing plenty of people in during the day when the facility doubles as one of the city’s warming centres.

The facility on Dundas Street has 37 emergency shelter beds and nine supportive housing units, and it offers support to people in precarious housing situations who might not have cellphones or access to showers.

But when it comes to addressing a cold spell, Lazenby says the shelter’s biggest need is weather-appropriate clothing such as boots, hats, gloves and winter coats.

“Our concern is that if this cold spell continues throughout the winter, is that we will run out of those supplies because Christmastime tends to be the time that people are in that mode of giving things, so we want people to really not forget that this is still happening throughout the holiday season.”

The Middlesex-London Health Unit issued a cold weather alert Tuesday night that’s expected to last until early Saturday morning, with temperatures expected to drop below -30 when factoring the wind chill on Thursday night, and into Friday.

But Lazenby emphasizes that homelessness isn’t just an issue when it’s cold.

“When the cold weather hits, this is when we get calls, this is when we get people talking about people sleeping on the street. And what we really want people to remember, is this is a year-round issue.”

READ MORE: London snow plows, salt trucks ready to tackle winter weather as drivers warned to be extra cautious

While Toronto is drawing fire for a miscommunication about the availability of its shelter space that led some to believe they were completely full, Lazenby is crediting London with having a good system of shelters which work together to make sure no one looking for a warm place overnight is turned away.

“Because of that, you’ll see things in London like shelter occupancy averages of 112 per cent,” explained Abe Oudeshoorn, the founder of the London Homeless Coalition.

He says shelters throughout the city have been averaging an occupancy rate over 90 per cent, which he doesn’t expect to change anytime soon.

What’s really stretching resources, he says, is the number of people who are accessing shelters during the day.

“These places during the daytime see huge increases in people coming in.”

The Unity Project is accepting donations of warm winter clothing. Lazenby reminds people that before making a donation, they should call a particular shelter and make sure there’s need for the items.

A full list of the city’s emergency shelters and warming centres can be found here.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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