Shelters, warming centres, soup kitchens to remain open during lockdown

People who are homeless in Waterloo region will have fewer places to go once the upcoming lockdown begins. 

People who are homeless will have fewer places to go once lockdown begins

A homeless man sits on a bench in Ottawa on April 16, 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

People who are homeless in Waterloo region will have fewer places to go once the upcoming lockdown begins. 

Currently, the region's shelters are operating within capacity with additional space available across satellite sites that opened up during the pandemic to accommodate more people and physical distancing. 

Almost all shelters in the region including House of Friendship and YM Emergency Shelter have extended hours to operate 24/7.

However, with the region moving into at least a 28-day lockdown beginning on Saturday, that could mean a loss of services for some people.

"It certainly does have an impact because places where people normally go and spend their time are not necessary going to open to them or if they are open they're be open in different ways," said Elizabeth Clarke, CEO of YW Kitchener-Waterloo, which operates a shelter.

Clarke is also the chair of the community services committee for the region.

She said libraries and restaurants will shut down indoor services, which some vulnerable members of the community relied on for warmth or access to a bathroom.

"That is a loss to people for sure," said Clarke. "It's important for us to continue to have something available."

Services available

During the last lockdown, some soup kitchens in the region closed their doors, but St. John's Kitchen and Ray of Hope will remain open this time around, including others in the region.

Clarke said there's also a possibility the food bank will change the way services are provided as a result of limitations on volunteers.

"We're not concerned we wont have food but how it's delivered might change," said Clarke.

 Warming centres and shelters are also available across the region.

"We believe we have lots of capacity, we haven't approached full yet, but at the same time we have to keep a close eye on those numbers," Clarke said.

She added that many people are still not using the shelters for a spectrum of reasons, which is why outreach groups are on the ground informing people about health and safety messaging as well as services available to them.

Local shelter using motels

Anne Tinker, interim executive director of the Bridges in Cambridge, said people reaching out for support have followed safety rules, which has helped keep its COVID-19 infections at zero.

She said usually the agency shelters about 100 people every night, but gathering limitations has reduced that number down to 64 with remaining clients staying at a local motel. She said if the agency is over capacity, it'll lean on other agencies.

"Everyone is working together … we're in contact all the time … nobody is forgotten," she said.

"I think we're going to be okay. We have very strict protocols in place for COVID-19. We screened everyone twice daily, people must wear face masks if they're coming into the building except when they're eating and sleeping, and people are pretty compliant with that." 

Since the pandemic started, the agency has been able to permanently house about 80 people.