Kitchener city council will discuss the future of the Out of the Cold shelter program today after four shelter sites in Waterloo Region announced they wouldn't host people in need this winter.
The program takes place at different regional churches each night of the week. Currently there are no hosts for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights.
The region said it's prepared to provide spaces to the more than 500 people who use Out of the Cold during the winter, through its exsisting emergency shelters.
But not everyone agrees with this plan. On The Morning Edition Monday, Craig Norris spoke with two site coordinators - Ken Schade who thinks the program should be shut down, and Cathie Stewart-Savage, who said the program needs to be continued.
Schade: Shut down Out of the Cold completely
Ken Schade is the coordinator of the Out of the Cold site at Kitchener's St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, which announced last month it wouldn't host the program this winter.
St. Andrew's closed its doors because partner church Trinity United decided not to host the program on Monday and Schade said St. Andrew's couldn't host Monday nights alone. St. Andrew's only has the capacity to feed and house 30 people.
"Originally, 15 years ago when the program first started, there were not the resources to handle the people effectively that were on the street. The Out of the Cold [program] came in as a temporary measure," said Schade.
But now the region has better resources and can deal with the homeless population in a professional manner, he said.
'You've got people out there with major anger problems. Threats, swearing, the volunteers are being threatened' - Ken Schade, coordinator for St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
"I feel that the region has developed its stuff, its whole outreach groups to a level that they can handle the whole thing," said Schade.
Schade said he and his volunteers are doing their work because they want to be of service to those in need and because of their faith, but they are not professionals.
"The last two years in Out of the Cold, there's a lot of violence. You've got people out there with major anger problems. Threats, swearing, the volunteers are being threatened. This was not at my site though. From what I'm told, police are called every night," said Schade. "Drugs are there, needles are all over the place, drug dealers are coming right into the sites and selling drugs. Now these are things I was told by the other sites. It's just gotten above what we can handle."
"When you look at the past history, although people are saying it's increasing, it actually has decreased from what we [were] doing ten, twelve years ago," said Schade.
Stewart-Savage: People will freeze to death if we stop Out of the Cold
Cathie Stewart-Savage is the coordinator for the program at First United Church in Waterloo. She said the Out of the Cold program is still necessary and is concerned about the four venues that have opted out.
'If all of the Out of the Cold doors close this winter, for sure we would have people freezing on the streets,' - Cathie Stewart-Savage, coordinator for First United Church
"I'm personally very disappointed. I had hoped that the Region would transition us to a point where the shelters, the Out of The Cold shelters, were not needed. This is very sudden and it's going to be very difficult on our guests who are very fragile people," said Stewart-Savage.
"If all of the Out of the Cold doors close this winter, for sure we would have people freezing on the streets," she said.
She said the region has done a lot of work to get facilities into place to provide for homeless people and others who use Out of the Cold, but that the region hasn't done enough work to encourage those clients to use the facilities.
Stewart-Savage said an outreach worker who volunteered with Out of the Cold did a survey with 36 clients and asked how likely they would be to use region shelters. She found 81 per cent wouldn't use region shelters, for a variety of reasons.
According to Stewart-Savage, some people may not trust the region's shelters while others like the fact they can check into Out of the Cold as part of a group.
Ideally, the region needs to work on supportive housing for people in need, to provide permanent and stable places for them to live, Stewart-Savage said.