Many communities across Ontario are scrambling to put in place emergency plans for homeless affected by the current cold weather snap, but a response plan put in place in Guelph mobilizes partner agencies for the entire winter to ensure anyone who wants an emergency shelter bed can get one.
Agencies in Guelph that support people experiencing homelessness don’t have to wait for Extreme Cold Warning to trigger a response like in some other communities, says Randalin Ellery, coordinator for Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination.
From Nov. 1 to Apr. 1, those partner agencies participate in the Community Cold Weather Response, which ensures anyone who needs an emergency shelter bed can get one.
“We are really lucky that we don’t face the same pressures as other communities, particularly with emergency shelter capacity issues,” said Ellery.
In 2016, said Housing Services for County of Wellington, an average of 59 individuals accessed one of the city’s 52 shelter beds.
The overflow is handled by temporary beds at one of three motels that participate in the program.
“We are able to meet the need in our community with the emergency shelters in times when we do meet capacity we can provide overflow support through our motel service to ensure everyone has a warm place to be at night,” said Ellery.
Gail Hoekstra, executive director of the Welcome In Drop In Centre, said the partner agencies meet in the fall to plan for the coming winter.
“Cold is cold. If you’re outside and you’re homeless it doesn’t matter if it’s minus 5 or it’s minus 18, it’s all unpleasant for people,” said Hoekstra.
Environment Canada says the current cold snap is expected to last until at least the weekend.
In addition to ensuring there are emergency shelter beds for everyone who wants one, the agencies also ensure there is always a centre open for warming during the day.
Welcome In on Gordon St. is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. To 3 p.m. as a warm up location, while Wyndham House on Woolwich St. is open Monday to Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Hope house on Cork St. is open for warming from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday.
The Life Centre on Quebec St. is open for warming from 6 p.m. To 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Saturdays.
Chalmers Community Services Centre on MacDonell St. Is open for warming Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. To 12 p.m. And on Wednesday evening from 7 p.m. To 8 p.m.
After 8 p.m. anyone can go to any of the shelters, whether they are youth or adults, notes Hoekstra.
“The only worry are the people that struggle with addiction and don’t want to go to shelters. That is always our most vulnerable group,” she said.
If people are concerned about someone they see outside that they think might need help they can call the police non-emergency line or they can call Here 24/7, said Ellery.
Here 24/7 is available at 1-844-437-3247. The Guelph Police Service non-emergency line is 519-824-1212 and 519-846-5930 for Wellington County OPP.
Upon receiving a call, police or Here 24/7 staff will then do a well-being check and offer to take that person to a shelter or for medical care, she said.
“If they don’t want to go to a shelter, which sometimes happens, police and Here 24/7 also have winter survival kits that have things like blankets, mitts and hats,” said Ellery.