Local church and charity open homeless shelter while region's shelter delayed

A temporary overnight shelter has been operating out of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church since Nov. 11, providing space to individuals in need while the region's long term shelter is delayed until Nov. 25.

Church has provided overnight shelter for up to 116 people at times, long term option opens next week

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Kitchener has been providing a temporary overnight space for people in need while a long-term option is set to open at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on Nov. 25. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A temporary shelter at St. Mary's Church in downtown Kitchener is providing a safe place for people to sleep while the region's shelter remains delayed in opening.

The Working Centre and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church on Duke Street has been providing overnight space since Nov. 11, when the region was hit with significant snowfall.

Rianne Rops, the church's outreach coordinator, said they've had as many as 116 people spending the night. But on the first night, there were 60.

"People came in, they sat down, they started chatting amongst themselves," explained Rops. "We had some food out, we had some coffee out."

She described that first evening as being very casual. But pulling the entire operation together was anything but. 

After getting a call from the Working Centre around noon last week Monday, Rops quickly fired off an email to parishioners. 

"The plea was for snacks and blankets, as many snacks and blankets as we could find," she said. 

Now, five people, including a nurse, staff the space every night, said Rops. 

"The group has been very much self regulating, if there's a problem coming up – even if someone is looking for housing – people from the community are saying, 'Have you tried this resource?'" explained Rops. 

'This is what we do'

Ryan Pettipiere, the region's director of housing services, told CBC News that the region is providing financial support to the overflow shelter. 

It'll will operate until Nov. 25, when the region's overflow shelter at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on King Street is scheduled to open its doors.

"It's freezing outside. There's nowhere for people to go. We have a massive hall, and it's not being used anyways," said Rops. "It really wasn't a choice, it was just, 'This is what we do.'"

Region-run shelter delayed

The region's overflow shelter typically opens in early November, but regional officials claim there was difficulty in finding a location this year and that delayed opening the shelter until Nov. 25. 

The shelter at St. Mark's will provide roughly 45 beds for individuals in need, with wiggle room to add a few more if needed.

"We're providing funding for those operations to the YWCA, who will be providing the staffing support at that location, as well as to the parish St. Mark's for other costs that come with that operation," Pettipiere said.

The region has also been providing funding for The Bridges in Cambridge, which has already been offering overflow shelter space since the week of Nov. 11, Pettipiere adds.

The Bridges has 28 spaces available.

Pettipiere said the budget allocated for this year's emergency overflow shelters, a total of $407,000, should cover the costs of all overflow shelters including St. Mary's. 

"We did have the budget to cover an earlier opening ... we believe we can accommodate all of the options discussed within the existing budget." 

The shelters at St. Mark's and at The Bridges will remain open until April.

with files from CBC's Liny Lamberink


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