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'I don’t want to sleep outside': St. Thomas unveils winter preparations for the homeless

Those living on the streets of St. Thomas, Ont. will soon need a winter plan.

“I don't want to sleep outside,” said Chinda, who didn’t give his last name. “I've been there done that. I grew up on the streets of Toronto in Chinatown, at Richmond, Dundas and York. I don't want to be outside.”

As the city finalizes its winter preparations for the homeless, the goal is to have people like Chinda indoors.

“That's what we've been attempting to do here in the city of St. Thomas,” said Joe Preston, St. Thomas’ mayor. “We want to move forward so that we can always say ‘There's a warm place for everybody every night.’”

Community service providers including The INN, CMHATV, YWCA, and Youth For Christ have been meeting monthly since late summer of 2023.

In a report to city council, Danielle Neilson, manager of Housing Stablity Services for the City of St. Thomas, wrote, “Due to a number of impactful community initiatives throughout 2023, collectively this group has agreed that it anticipates less need over winter this year compared to last year.”

“With the opening of the new Queen Street apartments (Indwell) another 45 more homeless people have a permanent place to go,” said Preston. “That makes life a little easier for us. That also gives most of some of these people friends who they may be able to bunk with or spend a very cold night somewhere else.”

The report also details the INN has increased bed capacity this winter. They will build an additional flex room, as well as increasing bed capacity from 40 to 44, and overflow pace from 10 to 15.

They could also add nine low barrier ‘crash cots’ in the basement.

The INN may issue a brief time out from the shelter where appropriate instead of a lengthy shelter restriction

To relieve pressures on the INN, Youth for Christ (YFC) has agreed to increase the use of their respite space.

Youth for Christ in St. Thomas, Ont. is partnering with the city to open up their ‘Upper Room’ respite space for young people experiencing homelessness. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)“We're open for ages 16 to 24,” said Kyle Rolph, director of youth homelessness initiatives at YFC. “We really want to have that space specific to the youth and keep them out of the adult spaces for sure. We have a great team of caring volunteers that are familiar with working with youth. It's great to see CMHATV coming together with the YWCA, the city, family children's services and everybody coming together just to help out other people that are going to be struggling this winter.”

In the report, it is revealed that Southwestern Public Health plans to lower the threshold for a cold weather alert. It will go from -30 to a much milder temperature.

That could help open up warming spaces, although Preston believes that those already exist.

“Since the implementation of the INN is a 24-hour centre, we have an all day warming center,” said Preston. “Perhaps in the past we only had an emergency sleeping shelter, and it expanded and now that it's 24/7. There are more wraparound services so it's a stay warm all winter long plan.”

During a cold weather alert, CMHATV’s Street Outreach Program can partner with local motel operators under extenuating circumstances.

According to the report - due to cost - this will be used as a last resort. Top Stories

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