Temperatures have once again begun to plummet. For Durham’s homeless population, it means braving another night of bone-chilling conditions on the streets. Two women in Oshawa are taking matters into their own hands to save lives.
For years, Melissa Schneider and Andrea Brum have been driving around the streets of Oshawa during the evening supporting people experiencing homelessness in any way they can, whether it be through meals, clothing or company. After learning they needed to operate out of a registered kitchen to continue to feed individuals, the group, known as DUO (Do Unto Others), purchased a space in south Oshawa last November.
“They have not been taken care of, they really haven’t. And it’s sad,” said Brum, who works as a personal support worker during the day and then heads to DUO at night. Brum gets less than two hours of sleep every day.
Currently, the pair act as a backbone for overnight support and resources. They say while there are agencies who are able to provide services during the day, most individuals are back in the cold come evening time.
“After 3 o’clock, there’s (nowhere) for them to go. They can’t even go into Tim Hortons,” said Brum.
The facility, open between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., serves as an overnight warming centre, a place for individuals to rest their heads and much more.
“We’re not so much there to offer a handout, we’re there to offer a hand up when someone is in need,” said founder Melissa Schneider.
“Whether that being food, kinship, clothing (or) a ride somewhere, there’s so many different things because there’s so many different people. Nobody is the same.”
Jeremy Corriveau is a father of four and regular visitor at DUO. He says the most difficult part of being out on the streets is “being alone.”
“It gets pretty cold. You just want to find a spot. If not, it’s a pretty bad night.”
Brum says it’s heartbreaking to see the stigma the homeless population faces.
“It breaks my heart to that people are out there and they’re being labelled or judged,” said Brum, “(without) really getting to know that person and really know why they’re in that situation.”
The pair currently pay for the space out of their own pockets. Most nights, they see up to 40 individuals who visit DUO. Some of those people have included youth and pregnant women.
“I find the crowd now is a lot younger than it used to be,” said Schneider.
Brum said “it was getting cold and I had people come in here with frostbitten feet and hands, crying.”
“There’s not much I can do to address it, we have to call the paramedics or someone to come pick them up.”
Every two weeks, Brum takes a handful of people to the Back Door Mission to see a doctor.
“They feel comfortable when I go there because they feel like when they go see a doctor, they get judged.”
Brum and Schneider hope they can rid the stigma around homelessness as they welcome individuals with open arms, while building meaningful relationships in the process.
“I’m absolutely connected to so many of them,” said Schneider.
“I cannot go home and not think about them. When it’s snowing outside or there’s an ice storm, my heart breaks. I have to go out, I have to.”
The group is asking for food and clothing donations to continue to support Oshawa’s homeless population.