Londoners experiencing unsheltered homelessness are going to have a warm place to escape the winter weather with the launch of the City of London and Ark Aid Street Missions out of the cold program.
The program, which is a part of the city’s winter response to homelessness plan, will provide 40 to up to 50 beds every night from now until March 31 at First St. Andrew’s Church, with daytime drop-in spaces at the Centre Branch YMCA.
The daytime drop-in spaces will open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, and the nighttime resting spaces will run from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. and then start opening at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1.
The spaces will offer people a place to stay, warm food, winter clothing, clean socks, and access to other supports they may need.
The warm place to stay is something the people running the space and those using it say makes a big difference when the temperature drops.
Kenneth Hammond, 34, has been experiencing unsheltered homelessness on and off since he was 15.
“One of the biggest stress out here is where am I going to get food, when am I going to get food, where am I going to sleep, when am I going to sleep, and those four questions are taken right out of the equation now,” Hammond said.
“If I am here at a certain time you get a bed; if I am here at a certain time I get food. There are solid, in stone, guaranteed answers, and that takes a big part of the stress out of things.”
Hammond said he gets $390 a month for rent and $370 a month for basic needs, and the $760 is what he has in a month to get by on.
“We are not all out here because we don’t know how to budget or have serious addiction problems, we are not all out here because we just want to be out here,” Hammond said. “I should not be out here.
“All you can really afford on social assistance is shared accommodation. There is always personal conflict, and something will happen, and then I am right back outside again.”
Looking at what options were available two years ago, Hammond says it’s night and day, with few options once shelters filled up.
“These cold Canadian winters are not kind to people when it comes to frostbite, when it comes to their health, when it comes to surviving, and this is a life-saving measure for people deprived of housing,” said Sarah Campbell, executive director of Ark Aid Mission.
This year’s winter response to homelessness plan is aimed at addressing the needs of people, both short-term and long-term housing, with the hope of working overtime to get people into permanent housing.
Campbell noted that while having access to drop-in options for overnight stays on the coldest nights last year is a priority, this year, with the help of funding from the city, they can offer overnight spaces every night, all winter long.
This year she said they will be hiring six people who have experienced unsheltered homelessness in the past to assist with the program.
“The voice of lived experience makes a big difference in how we do things.”
The total cost to the city’s winter response for both the drop-in spaces and long-term stays will cost just over $1.32 million, with all of the costs being covered by the Federal Reaching Home Program and the Provincial Social Services Relief Funding.
“The Winter Response Plan adds capacity across the city and using various approaches with many social service agencies to support the vulnerable Londoners in our community, “ says Debbie Kramers Manager, Coordinated Informed Response with the City of London,
“Council has been strong supporters of initiating the Winter Response Plan and using funding in an immediate and impactful way in supporting those experiencing homeless this winter.”
Details on how to volunteer or donate to the drop-in spaces can be found on the Ark Aid Mission website.