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By Wendy Gabrek
The former Anchor Point Church building on Paris Street, Alliston, has been converted into a ‘pop-up' homeless shelter for winter, 2017-18.
The building, outgrown by the Anchor congregation some six years ago (they now meet weekly at Circle Theatre) was donated for use by the church rent-free, leaving only regular utilities and food costs to cover.
Co-founded by Anchor Church member, and addictions counselor at The Well, Brenda Powling, “Out of the Cold” is not a new concept, but it is new in Alliston.
“Homelessness is a complicated issue,” Powling told The Times. “It doesn't always look the same.”
Powling went on to tell the story of a homeless couple from Toronto, who found themselves looking for shelter in New Tecumseth.
“They both had jobs here in Alliston, but due to some credit issues they didn't qualify for an apartment lease,” she said.
And this couple's story isn't stand-alone. Homelessness in New Tecumseth has always been an issue, but usually looks more like couch surfing then sleeping in alley ways.
So, what was the straw that broke the camel's back, leading to Alliston Out of the Cold?
“There was one particular case that really stuck with me. Two young students, who were also working, were living in a tent in our town. They felt it was safer than being at home – for whatever reason,” Powell said. “Often there is sexual or other abuses that go on when people rely on ‘couch surfing' for survival. Their story touched me deeply, and I knew it was time to do something.”
Without the new shelter, this couple would be fed into the system, likely ending up in a larger urban area, possibly separated, and exposed to more crime.
“Or, they would need to go into the shelter system, like People in Transition, My Sister's Place, the local women and children's shelter,” Powell adds. “They are often full to capacity too.”
In New Tecumseth, the lack of affordable housing is to blame for the rising homelessness crisis.
“The average rent in New Tec is $1,100 a month. A student working part-time for minimum wage simply can't afford that,” said Powling.
Powling, who also works through The Well, a Christian based ministry outreach program that supports the community through a variety of social services, has seen the need for housing increase dramatically.
“We have a one bedroom space at The Well that we lend out to those in need. It is always full,” confirms Powling.
Out of the Cold officially opened its doors on November 15. Word of its existence spread quickly through the homeless community, with help from local social services agencies, including The Well, CONTACT Community Services and FOCUS.
“We had people knocking on our door even before we opened,” said Powling. “It was very difficult to turn them away, but we were in the midst of a full renovation – both inside and out – to ensure we had the proper safe, clean, and bright environment for our guests.”
Out of the Cold is a ‘low barrier' housing unit, and no one will be turned away, so long as they are 16 years of age or older, and are asking for help.
“When we're full we'll redirect people to shelters in Newmarket or Barrie, but we can accommodate 16 guests at any one time,” said Powling. “We'll also work with people and connect them with a Housing First worker through CONTACT or FOCUS, to see what long-term future options can be set into place.”
Once inside, Out of the Cold guests will be asked for I.D., although it isn't required, and trained volunteers, plus a team lead and shift lead will be on site 24/7 to answer any questions. Alliston Out of the Cold has no paid employees.
“Unlike larger shelters that will often have an administrator, we rely on volunteers to operate. Our volunteers have to be 18 years of age or older, submit a clean criminal background check, and complete our training program. A lot of our volunteers work in the field of social services already,” said Powling. “Currently we are still seeking help with our mid-week, overnight shift, otherwise we've had no issues attracting people to help out.”
The shelter itself is two rooms, plus a bathroom, kitchen and outdoor smoking space. There are no bedrooms, and sleeping arrangements are communal, with dividers.
In addition to mid-week volunteers, the shelter is also accepting new socks and underwear donations, as well as hats and gloves. They also need medical first aid supplies.
“We cannot accept clothing,” said Powling. “We have no storage space. If someone comes into our care with clothing needs, we have an agreement with The Clothes Line on Victoria, and will send them there to get outfitted.”
To get the door open, Out of the Cold required many donations. They include (but are not limited to):
Plus many other donations from local church groups and individuals, including meals for year one.
“Making it work for our local homeless is a priority, and it's been amazing to see the community pull together like this to make it happen,” Powling said. “It's horrible to say it, as we never want to turn away assistance, but we are in really good shape right now.”
Powling doesn't know what the annual costs to run the shelter will be, but says they'll learn as they go.
“Youth from our ‘Rurban' town don't want to be shipped off to be ‘processed' elsewhere, they want to stay in their home town, get through tough times, and make it work,” said Powling. “And that's just what we're going to do.”
Photo by Wendy Gabrek
Homeless crisis in New Tec at all time high – Kerry Worrod (left), co-founder of the Michael Worrod Memorial Fund, presents Brenda Powling, co-founder of Alliston Out of the Cold with a cheque for $2,000, on Thursday, November 9. The funds, raised during the 10th annual Michael Worrod Memorial Golf Tournament in July, will be used towards ongoing year one costs associated with running the over-winter shelter in Alliston.
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