An Oshawa shelter expects to be busier than usual this evening as temperatures are forecast to feel like -33 C.
Officials at Cornerstone Community Association Durham opened an Out of the Cold shelter program Dec. 15 for homeless men and women.
Cornerstone expects its 30 beds to be in high demand this evening, says Alyssa Skan, program director.
The new initiative, located at 133 Simcoe St. S. in downtown Oshawa, operates daily from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and will remain open until March 15.
The 30 beds are available to homeless females and males from Durham Region who are 16 years of age and older. Fifteen seats are provided for individuals to sit at tables, who will also have access to free coffee, but no meals.
In the first two weeks of this program, 50 different individuals utilized these beds, says Skan.
The winter shelter was opened because of an increase in the visible homeless population, says Skan. More individuals are now sleeping in parks and in storefronts.
Durham Region used to have a ‘hidden homelessness’ problem, where a lot of individuals were sleeping on friends’ couches or staying with family, says Skan.
But that has changed, she says.
“Over the last year or two we have had a lot individuals who are now literally sleeping on the street. We’ve had a lot of tent communities start popping up, particularly in Oshawa,” says Skan.
One of the tent communities is located under the John Street bridge along the Oshawa Creek trail, within walking distance of Cornerstone.
“When that all started happening we realized with the cold weather we wanted individuals to have a warm place where they could have access to services as well.”
The reason for the increase in visible homelessness in Oshawa is not clear, says Skan, but there are some speculations why.
“There has been a few rental accommodations, that were affordable for individuals whose income sources were ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) and OW (Ontario Works), that shut down. The landlord is converting them to private market rent,” says Skan.
Individuals living in those units, and whoever they allowed to couch surf with them, are now homeless and with nowhere else to go. They are now sleeping outside, says Skan.
Although the Out of the Cold component of the shelter is for men and women, Cornerstone’s main shelter is for men only. It opened its doors 51 years ago, starting as a six-bed hostel. It now offers 40 beds.
Cornerstone also offers community outreach programs, 61 units of affordable rentals and a 20-bed correctional halfway house.
“We started recognizing that just offering a shelter service wasn’t really sustaining individuals, so we started providing services and programs along with the shelter to help individuals maintain permanent housing,” says Skan.
Medical and support services are also accessible to those in need. Physicians, psychologists, art therapy programs and connections to community support groups are available free of charge.