London

Downtown YMCA opens tonight as temporary overnight shelter

Although the city and social agencies have opened two temporary homeless shelters in London to get homeless people a warm place to stay at night, many are still sleeping rough and cold temperatures have forced the YMCA and Ark Aid Mission to open another 30-bed shelter.

Four people were turned away on Sunday night from a pop-up shelter on Dundas Street

A YMCA yoga room has been turned into a temporary overnight shelter for those with nowhere else to go during the cold spell in London, Ont. (Supplied by Jacki Kostuk)

Getting people out of the cold at this point is a matter of life and death. 

As nighttime temperatures dip below -15 this week and into next, the Ark Aid Mission on Dundas Street has partnered with the YMCA's Centre Branch to get more people into a warm space after the sun sets. 

"We continue to see people outside, and in our business neighbours' doorways, and in these extreme frigid temperatures, it can be a matter of life and death," said Sarah Campbell, the Ark's executive director. 

Starting tonight, the downtown Y will have 30 cots for those who have no other place to sleep. There are also 10 overflow beds, making enough room for 40 people to spend a night inside. 

The city has already opened two temporary shelters for 30 people each, an attempt to get a growing number of people who are sleeping on London's streets to come inside, if only during the winter. The effort was largely led by volunteers and a partnership between more than a dozen agencies who form the Winter Interim Solution to Homelessness (WISH) Coalition. 

This weekend, as temperatures dipped, the Ark Aid Mission opened for an out-of-the-cold program overnight and on Sunday night had to turn four people away. They had space for 17 people inside their building on Dundas Street. 

There are 30 cots available at the Waterloo Street YMCA for people who have nowhere else to sleep, plus an overflow of 10 spaces. (Supplied by Jacki Kostuk)

The YMCA heard about that, Jacki Kostuk, regional manager of health, fitness and aquatics explained, and jumped into action. 

"We've had to pivot with the times, and this is just another aspect of that," Kostuk said. "We have cots, beds, a cafe area, we've turned this around in 24 hours." 

A warm breakfast

"You arrive, you're screened properly, and then you get something to eat, a change of clothes, a great night's rest, and when you wake up, a warm breakfast. We'll give you a coat or whatever you need before you head out for the day." 

During the summer, the Centre Branch provided showers for those without, helping 300 people, Kostuk said. 

A yoga studio has been turned into a room with cots, and the Y's atrium into a general resting space. 

The temporary space, which will provide overnight shelter when temperatures dip below 15 degrees Celsius, is "a humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis," Campbell said. 

"It's a warming centre, a place to stay out of the elements, and a place where people are just there to encourage you," she said. 

"This issue has been persistent. Maybe the disparity between rich and poor is getting worse or maybe we're seeing it more, but we need to thin, 'How are we going to keep people alive?'"

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